The head of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions today called on politicians to recognise the importance of tourism in their election manifestos.
Director Bernard Donoghue made his plea as the association revealed that more than 123 million visitors passed through the doors of top UK museums, galleries and other attractions in 2014, a record 6.5% rise on the previous year.
Scottish attractions had the greatest increase of almost 10% increase, followed by London with a rise of 7.11%.
First World War centenary commemorations, including the sea of poppies at the Tower of London, and the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern in London helped boost numbers.
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow also helped, according to new statistics from the 57-member association.
The British Museum remained the most popular visitor attraction overall for the eighth year running with 6.7 million visitors followed by the National Gallery, which saw a 6.4% increase to 6.4 million.
Donoghue said: “I am delighted that our members figures are going from strength to strength – reflecting the significant role they play in the economy.
“As we approach the general election we want to remind all political parties that no party mentioned tourism in their last general election manifesto, however these figures clearly demonstrate the popularity of our best loved attractions and the importance of tourism to the UK – it’s the fifth biggest industry and the thidrd largest employer, generating £127 billion per year.
“I look forward to seeing all political parties spell out their strong support and ambitions for tourism, heritage, and arts and culture in their forthcoming manifestos.”
He said he was confident that figures will rise again this year with an anticipated increase in overseas visitors.
“Our members continue to develop and push the boundaries with more ground-breaking and innovative exhibitions, which will attract record numbers such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A from March 14, to Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon at the National Portrait Gallery, which opens on July 2.
Outside London, Chester Zoo will be opening “Islands” in June which will be the biggest new Zoo development in Europe by recreating the amazing tropical environments of six South East Asian islands,” he said.
There were 119 million visitors to ALVA properties in 2013, 92 million in 2012 and 97 million in 2011.
London’s airports face criticism in a poll result today showing that inbound travellers are “underwhelmed” by the service they receive.
A study of almost 14,000 arriving passengers over the past two years found them to be broadly satisfied but underwhelmed with airport services in the capital.
The passengers were asked to rate aspects of the airports they arrived at using a 10-point rating scale, with 1 being “very poor” and 10 being “very good”.
Average satisfaction scores commonly fell below 8 out of 10 – a score which generally indicates that the experience has matched or exceeded the expectation of the visitor.
London City airport was the only one to achieve scores above 8, while its rivals were often rated well below this threshold.
The lowest scores came in response to the perception of welcome at each airport, with Stansted identified as having the most ground to make up, being rated at 6.64 out of 10 – the lowest score for any airport evaluated in the research.
The London Visitor Opinion Survey also revealed that London’s airports are regularly failing in satisfying visitors’ expectations at immigration and customs controls, although London City was rated fairly positively at 8.12.
London City also received the highest average score for transport connections into the city, while Luton was considered the most inaccessible of the airports evaluated.
On a positive note, visitors’ overall satisfaction levels increased continuously albeit slowly over the period, with slight improvements being recorded in perceptions of welcome and transport connections.
LJ Research managing director Sean Morgan said: “London is keen to attract leisure and business tourism from around the world and is in fact very successful doing so.
“However, a destination’s airports are hugely important for setting the tone of the overall visitor experience. The latest scores indicate that London visitors are underwhelmed by the city’s airports and that more efforts should be put into improving customer service for visitors.
“Notably, visitors from Asia and Africa were most likely to state that the welcome they received was very poor. These are visitors from emerging markets that London and the UK as a whole are keen to attract more of.
“The research has highlighted a need for London airports to implement steps to improve customer service and the perception of ‘welcome’ which is an especially important consideration at this time as London considers its airport expansion options.”
A proposal for a Thames estuary hub airport has “substantial disadvantages” that collectively outweigh its potential benefits, the Airports Commission ruled today.
The scheme put forward by London Mayor Boris Johnson has not made the shortlist of options for providing new airport capacity by 2030 following a detailed further study into its feasibility.
Sir Howard told the BBC the estuary airport scheme was “too risky” and too expensive, with estimated costs of between £30-£60 billion of public money.
“We do not think it is a sensible option to pursue,” he said.
“The Mayor was looking for a solution. I don’t think it’s completely idiotic. Unfortunately our conclusion is that we can’t take it forward.”
He added: “The national interest suggests we need to find additional capacity somewhere.”
In a separate statement Davies said: “We are not persuaded that a very large airport in the Thames estuary is the right answer to London’s and the UK’s connectivity needs.
“While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.”
He added: “There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary.
“The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount.
“Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90 billion with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60 billion in total.”
Davies said: “There will be those who argue that the commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution.
“The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK.”
The commission will now continue its appraisal of the three shortlisted proposals for additional capacity. It will publish the appraisal for public consultation in the autumn.
Back Heathrow campaign co-ordinator Rob Gray said: “This decision is a major victory for the thousands of local residents in west London who had begun to fear the worst.
“However, despite the emphatic rejection of Boris Johnson’s plans, the UK still has a problem because Heathrow is bursting at the seams.
“The UK’s only hub airport might have dodged a bullet from the Mayor of London but a slow death awaits if it is not allowed to expand.
“The Airports Commission has said ‘No’ to Boris Johnson but for the sake of local jobs and UK prosperity, it now needs to say ‘Yes’ to growth at Heathrow.”
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “This is an important juncture in the aviation debate because now Britain’s choice is clear; expand Gatwick and support genuine competition, lower fares and greater choice for passengers or expand Heathrow and return to the stale monopoly of the past and watch the cost of going on holiday, travelling for business and exporting goods and service go up.
“We believe Gatwick has the strongest case. It is the only option left on the table that can be delivered with more certainty than either of the Heathrow options, and it can be delivered without the significant environmental impacts expansion at Heathrow would inflict on London. It can be delivered faster than any other option, and at low cost and low risk.
“Furthermore, expanding Gatwick will ensure the UK is served by two successful world class airports.
“It can liberate hub capacity at Heathrow and open up the opportunities for affordable long haul travel to emerging markets for the benefit of everyone, made possible by new generation of aircraft such as the Dreamliner.”
London could not support two hub airports, Heathrow is expected to claim today.Heathrow says new research by independent group JLS Consulting proves that no cities “have successfully split demand” between several airports.
Experimenting with the model in London would involve a major bet on Britain’s future prosperity, it claims.
The report looks at various cities around the world which have multiple airports, such as New York, Tokyo and Moscow, and concludes that a metropolis without a dominant hub suffers from “poor international connectivity” as a consequence, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The most often quoted example of a “constellation” model – New York – still has one airport that is used as a hub, the report argues.
At Newark airport, where United Airlines accounts for 70% of traffic, 47% of passengers are on transfer. This compares with just 18% at New York JFK.
In Tokyo, where international and domestic flights were split between Narita and Haneda airports, the inability to transfer on to connecting long-haul flights drove customers to Incheon Airport in Seoul, the report claims.
Heathrow argues that only a hub airport would provide the UK with sufficient connections to fast-growing Asian economies, because airlines struggle to make routes viable unless they are able to fill aircraft with transfer traffic as well as local passengers.
Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews said: “This research shows that no world cities have successfully split demand across multiple hub airports.
“However convenient it would be to believe that London could be the first, we cannot bet the UK’s economic prosperity on wishful thinking. The UK can only benefit from improved long haul connections by building a bigger hub airport.”
However, Gatwick says London and the South East could still attract sufficient connections by capping Heathrow’s growth and allowing new runways to be built at alternative airports, such as its own and potentially also at Stansted.
London remains the world’s largest city for low-cost carriers (LCC) but will see an increasing challenge from Asia which is seeing rapid growth, according to data from Amadeus.
The GDS and technology provider has released figures on the sector for the first half of 2013 which showed more than half of global growth is in Indonesia, India, Thailand and Malaysia.
The picture in Europe is more mixed with significant growth in the east (Warsaw up 63% for instance), but sharp declines elsewhere (Madrid down 27%).
London’s 15 million available low-cost seats kept it top of the pile and 1.5 times bigger than its nearest rival Sao Paolo.
However, Amadeus concluded: “The rates of growth occurring at Jakarta (44%) and Kuala Lumpur (15%) suggest the third and fourth placed cities may move up the top ten ranking over coming years.”
In the first half of 2013 low-cost seat capacity grew 6.8% globally on the same period last year, half of which came from Indonesia, India, Thailand and Malaysia combined.
Amadeus said its analysis paints a picture of strong capacity growth across Asia and the Middle East with only modest increases across Europe and North America.
Alexandre Jorre, LCC specialist at Amadeus, said: “We see a natural boom in LCC capacity across Asia, where point-to-point air travel is largely underserved.
“However, across the mature markets of Europe and North America capacity is constrained, which may explain why some LCCs are considering new approaches to secure future growth.
Low-cost carriers in Indonesia saw capacity rise by 12.3 million seats, in India capacity was up by three million seats, Thailand by two million seats and Malaysia 1.8 million seats
Asia showed the strongest growth rates of any region with a 28% overall increase to reach 129 million departing LCC seats.
Jakarta saw the strongest absolute LCC capacity growth of any capital, increasing by 2.8 million seats or 44%, closely followed by Bangkok, up 1.2 million seats or 30%.
Tokyo saw a significant increase in LCC seat capacity, suggesting the traditional focus on full service in that market could be changing, said Amadeus.
Behind Europe’s 0.8% LCC capacity growth was more complex picture.
In much of Southern Europe capacity has reduced, with Madrid seeing the largest fall of any capital city in the region and Athens and Rome also seeing significant percentage decreases.
However, in Eastern and northern Europe large increases were recorded.
Warsaw witnessed a 63% leap year-on-year, with low-cost flying now representing 27% of total departing capacity from the city. Istanbul and Copenhagen also saw LCC capacity increase sharply.
Amadeus, along with the other main GDSs, is working more closely with many low cost carriers as they seek to extend their reach beyond their domestic markets or into areas like business travel.
Jorre said: “With a 25% year on year rise over the first half of 2013, LCC bookings in Amadeus are growing significantly, which is a very encouraging sign that our ability to adapt to LCC distribution needs is proving attractive to both travel agents and airlines.
“LCCs are seizing the opportunity we offer to penetrate the high-yield business travel market and expand into new regions where they have limited brand presence.
“To maximize these benefits, we keep innovating, as demonstrated by the new range of light ticketing enhancements just implemented for easyJet, which keep it simple for LCCs and make it far more efficient for agents to book and service LCCs.”
Pascal Clement, head of travel intelligence at Amadeus, said: “Understanding how capacity trends are changing at a detailed level is fundamental to the planning process for both airlines and airports.
“Deploying effective data analysis tools that can seek meaning among huge volumes of data can give companies the edge.”
It would be a huge boost to the local economy, reckon politicians
Airlines are being urged to strike a deal to operate flights between North Wales and London from the new terminal at Hawarden Airport.
Politicians and business leaders believe such a service would have huge economic benefits for the region and provide commercial flight operators with a thriving customer base.
Askar Sheibani, chair of the Deeside Industrial Park Business Forum, says the route would give them a “major competitive edge” and “international prestige” when trying to attract large companies.
Aviation Park Group managing director Caroline Craft says several companies have expressed an interest in running return services to major UK cities from their new terminal, but admitted no deal has yet been struck.
Work on the facility, which is capable of handling small aircraft with up to 50 passengers and includes two departure lounges, is now complete. But it will not be operational until it gets the go-ahead from Airbus, who are allowing the terminal use of its main runway and control tower.
Once a date has been set for the launch, an open day will be held so the airport can show commercial airlines the facilities on offer – and hopefully convince them to start flights.
The terminal will have an initial two-year lifespan to establish whether running commercial flights is viable.
Welsh Secretary David Jones is urging potential carriers to take a serious look at operating a service to London City in particular.
“There is no air service that connects North Wales with London,” he said. “To get a link between Deeside and London City could potentially have huge benefits.
“You could be at arguably the financial centre of Europe in minutes. That would be really exciting.
“I heard a suggestion a few months ago that there was interest in running a service to London. I would very much encourage them (airlines) to look at the viability of the service.
“With the increasing importance of Deeside you’ve got a catchment area of industry which would give a good customer base. It’s a big catchment area that includes Merseyside. So you’ve got Airbus, JCB, Toyota and General Motors – companies of international standard who could use it.”
Mr Sheibani, CEO at Comtek Network Systems in Deeside, says he and local business leaders would make frequent use of a London air service – as long as it was affordable. He added: “Ideally they should aim to fly to the London City Airport. This will link Deeside to one of the most important commercial capitals of the world.
“It will bring a major competitive edge when we are talking to large international organisations enticing them to Deeside.”
North Wales AM Antoinette Sandbach, who recently visited the new terminal, said: “If the plans go ahead for flights to cities around the UK, such as City Airport in London or to Edinburgh and Bristol, it could cut out a lot of travelling time for people and save lengthy car journeys or using slow cross country rail services.
“It may also provide easy and quick connections to major air hubs and so help those living in North Wales to take advantage of a wider range of international flights, whether for business travel or leisure breaks.
“I was also pleased to hear that the aircraft are quite small as I know some fears had been raised locally over which carriers may be interested. Also, there is the potential for jobs to be created such as in the café, baggage handling and other ancillary roles when commercial flights start.”
Ms Craft said she was delighted by the support shown for a potential service to London – a trip she makes herself once a month – and remains confident that the airport venture will be a success.“We wouldn’t have built the terminal if we didn’t think it would be,” she said.
Ms Craft said no further progress had been made with regards to her attempts to establish a service to Cardiff from the airport. Earlier this year she held discussions with Citywing, formerly known as Manx2, who operate the only existing north-south link between Anglesey and Cardiff.
Those talks have not progressed because the proposal is faced with a financial stumbling block.
The current Citywing service receives an annual subsidy of £800,000 from the Welsh Government – funding the company would not expect to receive for a similar service from Hawarden.
Ms Sandbach plans to call on the Welsh Government to provide financial backing for the airport. She said: “I certainly plan to raise in the Assembly the need to support this venture, and especially if an operator is interested in a regular service to Cardiff.”
Lord Foster’s design for the super-airport in the Thames Estuary
So far the debate about the future of Britain’s major airports has been dominated by London and the South East.
Is a “Boris Island” super-airport in the Thames Estuary the answer? A new runway at Gatwick or Stansted? Or a third runway with extra developments at Heathrow, to the west of the existing terminals?
So when will those of us who live and work beyond the magic circle of the M25 have our say?
Answer: right now.
Aviation hub: On Monday, the Midlands’ biggest international airport will present its submission to the commission being led by Sir Howard Davies.
His final recommendations for the UK’s aviation strategy is not due until June 2015, a month after the planned date of the next general election.
But his interim proposals are promised before the end of this year and he has said he aims to narrow the discussion down to three or four serious propositions and lift any potential blight from other areas not in serious contention.
The commission is widely expected to recommend a solution involving between three and six airports.
Birmingham will put itself forward to be an aviation hub
Birmingham Airport’s recommendations are likely to chime-in with this: its managers are known to favour a multi-hub system such as the one they have in Germany, easing the pressure on the country’s main gateway at Frankfurt.
Birmingham will call for three hubs outside London. Not surprisingly, Birmingham would itself be one of them. The others would be Manchester and either Edinburgh or Glasgow.
But Birmingham believe they have one unique selling point. The Birmingham Interchange on a high-speed rail system would bring it within forty minutes of the capital and within less than one hour’s journey time of half the population of England.
New terminal: The centrepiece of Birmingham airport’s plan would be the construction of a new terminal incorporating the high-speed railway station which would help raise the airport’s capacity to around 37 million passengers a year. Managers estimate this would also generate nearly a quarter of a million new jobs.
But they also acknowledge that their vision is dependent on high-speed going ahead. HS2, as we know, has triggered a storm of protests along the proposed routes and the business case has been repeatedly downgraded.
Environmentalists including the Green Party, who won seats off the Tories in Warwickshire in last month’s council elections, are opposed to both high-speed rail and further airport development. UKIP are against HS2 as well.
Bold and braveAnd what if the expected growth of aviation does not materialise? Forecasts have been notoriously wide of the mark in the past.
And is it really the job of airports to be engines of regeneration, or should they merely respond to existing economic conditions?
Some local political leaders in all three main parties urge Birmingham’s airport managers to respond to their critics by being bolder and braver still, to make a real contribution to the mantra of “rebalancing the economy”.
How exactly this might be achieved will be revealed exclusively on this weekend’s Sunday Politics Midlands from 11.00 on BBC One on Sunday, 9 June 2013.
The vision is certainly ground-breaking.
Which is another way of saying it is controversial too. I hope you will be able to join me on Sunday’s programme to find out all about it.
Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands.