UK Tourism Policy – A Punctuated Equilibrium view

Based on our ongoing research into tourism policy in the UK, Dr Samantha Chaperon and I recently gave this presentation at the International Conference on Tourism in Naples, Italy.

In our presentation, we present research where we tested the utility of the concept of punctuated equilibrium, for understanding recent changes in UK tourism policy.  Punctuated Equilibrium draws our attention to two different groups of people and organisations in understanding change and continuity in tourism policy.  Firstly, the policy community involved in framing, creating and implementing tourism policies in the UK.  Secondly, the role of issue networks in attempting to shift the tourism policy agenda – broadly speaking, this would be activity by non-governmental interest groups, such as lobbying and campaigning.

In our presentation, we presented two brief case studies.  Firstly, we explained how the conservative elements of the UK’s coalition government, which was elected in 2010, slowly worked to change the composition of the tourism policy community until they were able to achieve their ideological goal of significantly reducing public sector support for tourism, despite this having no real support from the broader tourism sector in the country.

Secondly, we discussed how a campaign with very broad support from industry, and from many politicians and organisations outside of this policy community had failed to achieve their aims of achieving a reduction in sales tax (VAT) on the tourism and hospitality sector.

We concluded that the perspective of punctuated equilibrium was helpful in explaining why a long period of stability in tourism policy and been broken by a series of quite dramatic changes in tourism governance in the UK.  Punctuated Equilibrium suggests that we should be able to explain the evolution of tourism policy through analysing the tension between policy communities and issues networks – our initial investigations have led us to conclude that, in the case of the UK, the policy community is the dominant part of this equation.  We plan to develop this further for a paper next year….



Backing the Tourism Sector? The UK Government’s new tourism policy

The UK Government recently published their new ‘five point plan’ for the tourism industry.  You can download it from here.  In this post, I’m going to have a critical look at this new policy, which actually contains very little policy at all…

As Kurt Janson, the policy director of Tourism Alliance, has pointed out, it is a good sign for the sector that the Government is at least talking about tourism as a policy area in a time of public sector spending cuts.  Despite the rumours that were circulating before the recent election about further cuts to public support for tourism and the gloomy future for the Department for Culture Media and Sport (where tourism sits in government policy), it seems as though this Government is continuing to say the right kinds of things about the UK tourism industry, which contributes around £60bn a year to the economy.

Click on the image to read the policy in full
Click on the image to read the policy in full
Despite this optimistic view, it is worth considering the detail of this policy, to see what it offers to tourism businesses, local government and the nearly 10% of the workforce who are employed in tourism-related jobs.   The problem is, there really isn’t much detail here to go on.  With a colleague, Samantha Chaperon, I published this paper on the last UK Tourism Policy, and in this paper I reviewed the tourism policies of successive Labour Governments, from 1997-2010.

The lack of detail in this new policy document, which is only 6 pages long, makes it difficult to engage with in the same way.  The policy sets out five key areas, and in this blog post, I’m going to say something about each of them.

  1. Tourism Landscape

This first area of the policy is about the governance of Tourism in the UK, or, actually, in England.  As we’ve pointed out before,  tourism in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is dealt with by their own, devolved governments.  The last tourism policy seemed to ignore this fact, and it is good to see the Government acknowledge this issue in this new document.

This section starts from the premise that the governance of tourism in the UK is fragmented and confusing, and that the mix of relationships between DMOs, local government, national bodies and tourism businesses needs to be simplified.  This seems-self evident.  Certainly the industry will welcome a simplification in this area.

This is clearly an example of this new Government attempting to make up for some of the hasty mistakes of the last one.  The cuts in public funding for tourism, including for the national tourism bodies, regional development agencies and for local government, directly contributed to the fragmentation that this policy aims to address.  Hopefully this Government has learnt from its mistakes in this area as part of the 2010-2015 coalition.

   2.  Skills and Jobs

Again, after cutting funds for, or completely removing, specialist sources of support for the tourism sector in the UK, the government is now emphasizing the support that is available to tourism businesses.  There is no new support announced in this policy, but the Government is right to point out that there are a wide range of business support services available to all businesses, and that it is important to communicate this effectively to the tourism sector.  This is especially important for micro-businesses and SMEs, many of whom were previously able to access specialist support through  Regional Development Agencies, local authorities or DMOs.

The policy then goes on to talk about jobs in the industry.  There are no new initiatives mentioned, but the aspiration to help to create and support apprenticeships in tourism and to raise the status of jobs in tourism is a welcome one – organisations like the British Hospitality Association are already taking the lead in this area and should expect more support from the Government following this policy.

   3. Common Sense Regulation

This area of the policy contains nothing new for the tourism industry, despite a brief mention of the sharing economy.  The policy makes a commitment to reducing unnecessary regulation – which all governments say at the start of their terms – something that most businesses see as a priority.  It is not clear which regulations they think are a problem, but it will be interesting to see whether European Working Time Directive is on the list when Britain attempts to renegotiate its membership of the European Union this year.  It is hard to be against something that calls itself ‘common sense’, but not all regulations are a bad thing and it remains to be seen where this policy aim will lead.

   4. Transport

The Davies Commission recently recommended that the Government builds a new runway at Heathrow.  This is the big decision on travel that the tourism industry has been waiting for.  This policy gets us no closer to finding out what the Government will do about that recommendation, and instead seems to concentrate on how the train network can better support tourism outside of London.  This seems like an idea that is hard to disagree with – who doesn’t want faster, cheaper, cleaner and more dependable trains? Unfortunately,within the constraints of a privatised rail industry, it seems unlikely that Government has the right levers to pull to achieve any of these things.

  5. A GREAT Welcome

The word GREAT in this area is a reference to the GREAT Britain destination marketing campaign that was launched following the last tourism policy, in 2011.  The policy extends the concept to the welcome that is provided to tourists arriving in the UK. However, this area of the policy isn’t really about the welcome.  It is about the visa application process for tourists.  Of course, applying for a visa is an important part of the way that some tourists form their perceptions of the UK as a tourist destination.  I’ve never heard of the Visa process being reported as a big problem by our most valuable tourist markets – the USA, France, Germany and Australia.  It is a much bigger issue for emerging tourism markets, such as China.  At the moment, China isn’t even in our top ten source markets -the new policy may go some way to addressing this.

The welcome provided to tourists in the UK has often been rated poorly, especially compared to many of our competitors.  I don’t think that changing the visa process for some tourists will make a major contribution to solving this problem, which requires training, partnerships with industry, investment in facilities and a long term culture-change.

This new policy doesn’t really contain many policy initiatives.  Compared to previous policies it is very light touch, which some parts of the industry will welcome.  Many others however, will be concerned with the lack of any content on sustainability, the outbound sector, domestic tourism or the ongoing campaign to cut tourism VAT.  As with the last policy, it is probable that the real action on tourism will come from the planning and actions of Visit England and Visit Britain.

We are getting closer and closer to the point where the UK Government doesn’t feel the need to publish its own policy on tourism any more.  Some people would say that this is no bad thing.  In a few year’s time, we will be able to see whether this non-policy has helped the tourism industry in the UK, or held it back.

A visit to Belgrade

Last week, Dr Samantha Chaperon and I, from the University of Greenwich, presented at the Belgrade Tourism Conference 2015, which was being held alongside the Belgrade Tourism Fair.  We were invited to speak by Serbia4Youth, an amazing organisation who are working to present Serbia as a destination for young people from across Europe and beyond.

Serbia4Youth brought together a group of academics for an event that was opened by Gordana Plamanec, the Managing Director of the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia.  As well as Samantha and I, delegates heard from Rob Davidson (MICE Knowledge) and Dr Melanie Smith (Budapest Business School), Miha Lesjak (University of Primorska, Slovenia) and Milan Stojkovic (Tourism Management Consultant).

panel discussion
Rob Davidson, Melanie Smith, Samantha Chaperon and I

The conference was one of the most interesting tourism events that I’ve been involved in for a long time – a chance to hear from academics in a region that is often under-represented in academic circles and to listen to the views of young people from the region about how they see the future of tourism and their own careers. I learnt about the extent and significance of spa and health tourism in south-eastern Europe and the innovative marketing of the European Basketball Championships in Solvenia in 2013, as well as the factors affecting tourism entrepreneurship in the region.  You can view our presentations below:

Dr Samantha Chaperon: Tourist Destination Image – Young People’s Perceptions of Serbia

James Kennell: Cultural Tourism and Urban Regeneration in Europe – Lessons for Serbia

As well as a great conference, our hosts showed us some of the traditional culture of Serbia and took us to some of their other events for young people in the city.  Belgrade has so much to offer young people as a destination, not least its nightlife!  We tried to keep up, but eventually gave in and saved our energy for sightseeing…

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Tourism Policy in the UK – do we really need one?

Despite writing and teaching about tourism policy, I do sometimes wonder about whether we need tourism policy at all, at least in the UK.

The classical arguments for why we need tourism policy are fairly convincing: The industry is incredibly complex and fragmented and benefits from structure and leadership; The environmental impacts of tourism require management; Tourism, left unchecked, can have severe social consequences in destinations; The high growth potential of tourism means that governments would be wise to support and nurture it and, most frequently, tourism suffers from the problem of market failure.


There are at least two questions worth asking in response to all of this.  Firstly, do all of these arguments really carry weight in the UK?  Secondly, what would happen if we didn’t have a tourism policy?

The complexity of tourism was described perfectly by Bob McKercher in the first issue of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism in 1993: “Tourism is a multi-faceted industry and, as such, it is almost impossible to control”. This is certainly true, but begs the question of why we need to control tourism at all.  In the UK, with a strong and stable government, the tourism industry is regulated and monitored through a range of legislative measure, guidelines, NGOs, partnerships and communities.  Concerns about the control of tourism are caused by the bogey-man of tourism businesses running out of control and seeking profit at the expense of everyone else, but it is very hard for anyone to do that in the UK without running up against some pretty big obstacles, none of which are tourism-policy specific.

This first issue of control helps us to understand the arguments about the impacts of tourism.  Clearly, tourism has a range of impacts and some of these can be very negative.  Tourism Policy in the UK, however, doesn’t actually put any limits on the activities of tourism businesses – limits come from more general legislation such as planning and employment law.

As I’ve argued in this article, although previous UK tourism policies did make the case for sustainable development, this has been dropped from the current policy in favour of economic growth, in any case.

The market failure argument is a difficult one to evaluate, especially given the success of the tourism industry in the UK.  Of course, problems of free-riding mean that it is true that non-contributing tourism businesses can benefit from the destination marketing activities funded by their competitors, but most tourism marketing is funded by the public sector, or in partnership with the public sector.  Aside from that example though, it is hard to see real problems of market failure in the UK tourism industry – the industry makes a large contribution to GDP, is dominated by SMEs, offers huge diversity to customers and has low barriers to entry.

Tourism's Contribution to GDP in the UK (Visit Britain)
Tourism’s Contribution to GDP in the UK (Visit Britain)

So what would happen if we didn’t get a new tourism policy in the UK after the general election in 2015?

Let’s assume that Visit Britain would continue in some form.  Despite having its funding slashed in half since 2010 and becoming a public-private partnership in all but name, it has continued to carry out the international destination marketing campaigns that an NTO should.  With reduced government support and, potentially, no government department overseeing it, it would probably be wrapped up with UK Trade and Investment and Higher Education as a PPP with a relationship to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, much as happened when Visit London became part of the new London and Partners, the ‘official promotional company for London’.  International destination marketing would almost certainly carry on as before.

At the local government level, it would become harder to justify support for tourism activities without it being endorsed by a specific government policy area.  But tourism has always been an area of discretionary spending for local government and has already seen huge cuts at this level.  A new breed of Destination Management Organisations is emerging, outside of local authority structures, and it is likely that these private-sector-led bodies would take on destination management and marketing roles, as they already are.

And I don’t think it would make a difference to the day-to-day running of tourism businesses, who spend large amounts of their time grappling with employment law, taxation, health and safety regulations and the like, but very little struggling with the implementation of government tourism policy.   At events over the last few years, I’ve heard tourism business leaders and small businesses arguing for reduced regulation, improved employment legislation and a reduction in VAT.  I haven’t heard anyone calling for an improved tourism policy.

This is the second in a series of posts about UK Tourism Policy in the run up to the 2015 General Election.  You can read the first post here.  Over the next couple of months I’ll be reviewing each of the main parties’ proposals for tourism policy, but I don’t think it is impossible to imagine the UK without one.

UK Tourism Policy and the 2015 General Election

As the 2015 general election in the UK draws nearer, the tourism industry will look with interest to the manifestos of the major parties to see whether tourism gets a mention.   Despite none of the parties mentioning tourism in their manifestos for the election in 2010, tourism was the subject of one of the first policy statements by our Prime Minister, David Cameron, in August 2010.

uk tourism image

I posted a series of blog posts in the run up to the publication of the 2011 UK Tourism Policy, which you can read herehere and here. In these posts, I suggested that the government needed to develop a serious industrial policy for tourism, cut VAT on tourism, invest in skills development and education for tourism professionals and create tourism enterprise zones. Over the last few years, I’ve written (mostly with my colleague Dr Samantha Chaperon) a few papers that evaluate the UK Government’s recent approach to the tourism industry along similar lines.

In 2010, we published this paper on the prospects for English Seaside Towns in the context of the closing down of the Regional Development Agencies and their replacement by new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). We concluded that the LEPs did not place sufficient emphasis on tourism and that they did not recognize the challenges to developing seaside towns associated with their peripheral locations.

In 2013, we published this paper critiquing the UK Government’s 2011 Tourism Policy. In the paper we outlined the major changes that had taken place in the governance and public funding of tourism following the publication of this policy and suggested that the policy did not offer a clear vision of how the government would support the industry in a period of public sector austerity.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 17.11.43
Click on this image to read the current UK tourism policy

Also in 2013, I published this paper, which reviewed the tourism policies of successive UK Governments from 1997-2010 in terms of their relationship to local economic development. This paper shows that, although the current government’s tourism policy continues with many of the assumptions of previous policies about the links between tourism and economic development, it does introduce some new thinking that may create an environment in which the tourism industry can contribute to local economic development.

Thanks to pressure from industry groups such as the Tourism Society, British Hospitality Association and the Campaign to Cut Tourism VAT, it is likely that all of the main political parties in the UK will make statements about the plans for tourism in the run up to the general election.

I think the chances of tourism making it into the published manifestos are pretty slim – tourism isn’t really a doorstep issue. However, we should expect to hear something like this statement from the Labour Party from all of their rivals over the next few months. As they do so, I’ll be reviewing them on this blog and trying to get a sense of what the post-election tourism landscape will look like.

Reducing Tourism VAT and the Route to Happiness – free talk at the University of Greenwich

On 11th December 2013, we’ve invited Graham Wason, the chairman of the campaign to cut Tourism VAT, to give a talk at the University of Greenwich.

Graham Wason is Chairman of the Campaign for Reduced Tourism VAT, which urges UK Government to reduce VAT on visitor accommodation and attractions to 5%, arguing that this will make the UK more competitive with the rest of the EU. Independent research shows this measure would create jobs and give a positive return to the Treasury of £2.6 billion over 10 years. He will present the work of the Campaign.  You can book your place at the event here.


Graham is also Co-founder of All Being Well, which inspires people towards well-being, growth and fulfilment in life and work. What is the link between cutting tourism VAT and fulfilment in life and work? Is it to be found in Graham’ country of residence, Denmark, which has the highest rate of tourism VAT in the EU yet consistently tops the league of the world’s happiest countries? Graham will present the findings of the latest World Happiness Report and suggest an alternative route to fulfilment and happiness.  

Graham Wason Biography

Graham Wason is Chairman of Cut Tourism VAT, the industry-wide campaign for reduced VAT on tourism, which he leads on behalf of Bourne Leisure, Merlin Entertainments, the British Hospitality Association and the British Association of Leisure Park Piers & Attractions.


Since 1993, he has prepared eight in-depth reports on the impact of reduced tourism VAT on UK jobs and the economy: .

Graham graduated in Hotel and Catering Management at the University of Surrey and worked in hotels in England, Wales, Germany and Nigeria, and as Hotel and Tourism Inspector for the consume magazine, ‘Holiday Which?’. He then spent nearly 20 years with Deloitte, where he was partner responsible for tourism and hospitality consulting and worked on 500 tourism projects in over 50 countries.

His roles have included Strategy Adviser to the World Travel & Tourism Council, Consultant to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Special Adviser to a House of Lords Select Committee, Chairman of the Tourism Society and the British Consultants Bureau Tourism and Leisure Group, and member of the advisory boards of the University of Surrey School of Management and the Institute of Tourism Guiding.

Graham owns and overseas Cossington Park, a five-star gold award winning self-catering operation in Somerset. Graham is co-founder of All Being Well, which provides well-being, leadership development and coaching to companies and individuals. Whilst his professional activities are carried out primarily in the UK, Graham lives with his wife and son in Denmark.

An analysis of the UK Government’s tourism policy

We’ve just had this analysis published in the journal ‘Cultural Trends’. You can download the article from here.  If you don’t have access, please contact me.  The abstract is below, as well as a presentation of the article that we gave at the Tourism Trends and Advances in the 21st Century conference in Rhodes, earlier this year.

“This review considers the UK Government’s 2011 tourism policy document. The policy was produced during a period of public sector restructuring in the UK and also during the global economic crisis, which began in 2008. The policy sets out a number of reforms to the governance of tourism at the national and local levels, which aim to increase the level of private sector involvement in leading and developing the tourism sector and to reduce the sector’s dependence on public funding. During a period of economic slowdown in the UK, the tourism industry can make a significant contribution to growth, but it is not yet clear whether these proposed reforms will support or impede the future development of the tourism industry in the UK.”

UK Tourism Policy

Today, we gave a presentation of our analysis of the UK Government’s tourism policy at the University of the Aegean’s fith annual conference on tourism in Rhodes, Greece.

You can view the presentation below. This presentation was based on this article:

China’s new tourism policy 2013-2020

The Chinese Government has launched a new tourism policy, with the aim of significantly enhancing tourism development in the country and establishing China’s tourism industry as a significant economic force in China’s domestic and international tourism markets.

You can download the policy document, in English, by clicking here. In this post, I give an outline of the document and offer some brief analyses of it’s key aims. In our new book, we’ll be looking at this policy in more detail in a case study.


The policy begins by stating some guiding principles.  As with all Chinese policies, it is aligned with the key political ideas that drive the modern(ising) Chinese state -‘Deng Xiaoping Theory‘.  Dengism, as it is also known, is (amongst other things) an attempt to develop the Chinese economy and society in line with its guiding revolutionary and communist principles, but in a way that allows the country to engage constructively with the neoliberal world economy.  This policy exemplifies Dengist policy, emphasising the Chinese national and socialist aims of the policy whilst also promoting individual livelihoods, sustainable development, SME growth and economic development.

The policy goes on to list ‘Major Tasks and Measures’ – these are the key aims of the policy:

  • ‘Sufficient time for national tourism and leisure’

This is a demand-side measure to develop the market for China’s tourism industry by enforcing regulations on statutory paid annual leave entitlements for Chinese workers.  By increasing the number of ‘rest days’ available to the population,this should (in theory) lead to people wanting to spend their time and money on products and services offered by the domestic tourism industry.  Also, this should help China’s outbound industry to grow.  In addition, schools and universities are to be asked to consider both extending and changing their holiday periods.

Foxonn workers

  • ‘Better environment for national tourism and leisure’

This measure aims to increase the availability and accessibility of key tourism destinations and attractions.  ‘Public museums, memorial halls and sites for patriotic education will gradually open to the public for free’.  Local government is asked to improve the quality of tourism transport and businesses are encouraged to give favourable treatment to tourists.

  • ‘Improved infrastructure for national tourism and leisure’

The Chinese government intends to increase the supply of tourism facilities including new parks, ‘tourism villages’, family and budget hotels, cruise terminals, marinas and tourism zones.  This aim also highlights the need to improve access to tourism for those with additional needs.

  • ‘Product development and activity organisation of national tourism and leisure’

This is a supply-side measure that has the intention of diversifying and developing the Chinese tourism industry through the creation of new tourism sub-sectors such as sport tourism, medical tourism, bicycle tourism and others.  The policy also mentions the development of ‘red tourism’, which is a form of political tourism that celebrates the Chinese state and its recent revolutionary history, and aims to promote ‘fine traditional culture’.  This measure also includes a commitment to developing the knowledge base for tourism development, increasing R&D in tourism and supporting technological developments in the tourism industry.

'Red tourists' experience a historical gun battle.
‘Red tourists’ experience a historical gun battle.
  • ‘Well developed public services for national tourism and leisure’

This section of the policy is the least novel, and the most comparable to other national tourism policies.  It sets out the ambition to create new tourist information services, including TICs, road signage and websites.  Along with this, the policy gives priority to staff training and higher education and vocational education in tourism management.

  • ‘Enhanced service quality in national tourism and leisure’

The final measure is an aim to develop service and quality standards for the tourism industry in China, including a quality guarantee system for tourism and leisure.

The section of the policy document that covers the governance of tourism and the implementation of the policy is very short.  Given the top-down nature of the Chinese political system, it is likely that the governance arrangements are fairly established and that there won’t be a set of tourism-specific institutional arrangements.  The policy refers to ‘development and reform commissions, tourism departments, trade unions, communist youth league organisations, women’s federations and relevant industrial associations’ as all having a role to play in implementing the policy.

This new policy document gives an insight into the modernisation and development of China’s tourism industry.  In common with many national tourism policies, including the latest UK Tourism Policy, it makes no mention of China’s outbound tourism sector, and focuses wholly on the development of the national tourism product.  Despite the widely held perception that China does things differently to the rest of the world, this is actually a very orthodox form of tourism policy.  It concentrates on product diversification and development and contains some standard aims to increase education and training and to improve tourist information.

The size of the Chinese domestic tourism market is huge, with some estimates suggesting that there may be as many as 1.7bn domestic tourist trips taken each year. As the Chinese government attempts to develop their domestic markets and rebalance away from being an export-oriented economy, to one that is less-reliant on overseas economies, especially the USA, the tourism and leisure sectors offer an opportunity to develop both domestic consumption and new employment sectors.

This policy takes a very broad overview of the Chinese tourism industry, aiming to increase quality and diversity in all of its aspects.  The lack of a clear set of targets or implementation plans in the policy document means that it will be difficult to evaluate it’s success, but the strength of the central Chinese state suggest that the many of the aspirational aims of the policy will be funded and delivered and that this will be carried out on an immense scale.

Some advice for the government on their new tourism policy Pt. 3 – it’s time to get over the Olympics and kick-start innovation

When I started at the University of Greenwich in late 2005, I was asked a question in my interview about the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: “How do you think we should engage with 2012?”  Now, just 18 months before the opening ceremony, I’m asked the same question at meetings and events by university management, other academics, the private sector and local authority officers.  I’ve slowly refined and simplified my answer to the point where I now tend to say something like “You can’t, it’s too late.”  If you’re not already on the inside track in terms of consultancy, procurement or training, then the opportunity to get involved has probably passed you by.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved in other ways.  The excellent #media2012 project, for example, is developing new forms of social and citizen interaction with the Games and the Business Network portal still offers opportunities for the private sector to get into the 2012 procurement game.  But, if you haven’t yet worked out how to lever the immediate impacts of 2012 for your university, business or research then you’re probably not going to.

The reason for this is that the Games, like all mega-events, has a life-span that far exceeds the event  itself.  The pre-games period, of bidding, winning and preparing for the Games is hurtling to a close.  This is the period in which to build capacity, market incessantly and to plan.  The event period itself will be over in a flash.  In 2007, the manager of a branch of a major hotel chain told me how two floors of his hotel in East London had already been booked up by an American news network for their staff to use during 2012.    Many of the immediate opportunities presented by the presence of the event itself have already been monopolised by large companies who had access to the capital needed to invest in anticipation of the Games, and let’s not forget the licensing arrangements of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), which means that opportunities to profit directly through providing services, merchandising or human resources are tightly policed.  Admittedly, I’m taking quite a narrow focus here.  It is possible that the cities and regions with their own Olympics strategies will benefit from increased tourism during the Games.   Outside of the South-East of England however, how many areas have a coherent and well-resourced policy for leveraging the benefits of this mega-event outside of the capital?  How many tourists will really want to extend their stay beyond the Games period outside of London and will any want to base themselves outside of the boundaries of high-speed rail and commute to the celebrations?

The period in which meaningful policy development can still have an impact and businesses, government and universities can still engage is in the post-games period and into the legacy phase.  The defining feature of London’s winning bid to host the 2012 Games was its concentration on the long-term benefits of hosting the event on infrastructure, social regeneration, education and sports participation.    I make no claims to an understanding of the relationship between elite sports, event hosting and increasing sports participation in the general public other than to say that the evidence for any linkages seems mixed, at best.  For the most authoritative views on this subject, check out Professor Mike Weed’s blog

 Disaster recovery

In many ways, the immediate post games period is going to feel like the aftermath of a disaster in London.  There will be a dramatic drop in visitor numbers to the city and the Olympic park and its surroundings will become inhabited once again by security guards and construction workers.  The parks and streets will feel less like “the world’s greatest party” and more like the opening scene from 28 days later:

Click on this image to watch the opening sequence from the film

Navigating successfully out of this disaster without creating a legacy of disappointment as the adrenaline of the games goes sour in East London’s system will depend on a number of factors; I’m going to concentrate on two here: creating meaningful opportunities for volunteers, and innovations in the local tourism industry. 

For many of the army of volunteers being recruited to help deliver the Games, this will be an opportunity to gain work experience, network, and to work towards qualifications.  Can we create meaningful opportunities for these volunteers to continue to develop their skills and to meet their raised aspirations?  Creating a reserve army of labour for the big society won’t support meaningful economic development in the deprived areas of East London that the Games are supposed to help, and may produce a downward pressure on local wages, encouraging out-migration and worklessness.    During the pre-event period of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, unemployment in the city halved, mainly thanks to the creation of 59,382 jobs directly connected to the games.  Immediately after the games, unemployment rose again by 21,000, before falling again in 1995 (Brunet 2009).   The employer concords that have already been put in place for the construction work connected to 2012 should be extended to align volunteering opportunities during the games with meaningful post-games opportunities, for those who want them, to take part in mentoring programmes, internships and education and training.  This is an opportunity to upskill the entry levels of the tourism, events and leisure sectors in East London and to make sure that continuous improvements in tourism product quality can take place in the post-games period, helping to re-position East London as an innovative tourism brand.

Innovative tourism developments are going to be fundamental to avoid the serious over-capacity issues that have plagued Beijing and Athens in the post-games period.  Between 2005 and 2008, Beijing’s hotel sector grew by 227% and the number of available rooms rose from 6,452 to 37,360.  This over-supply has led to downward pressures on room rates and drops in confidence in the accommodation sector, accompanied by staff reductions and hotel closures.   In the same way that Barcelona is always used as an example of a ‘successful’ Games, Athens has become a by-word for redundant stadia and rotting facilities. 

Athen's Olympic Stadium: Hopefully West Ham FC will do a better job....

But innovation in tourism does not happen over-night. The Government’s new tourism policy should be seeking to support an innovation infrastructure for tourism right now.  This will mean encouraging partnerships between higher education, the private sector and social enterprise, with the public sector holding the ring.  Small pots of money to support entrepreneurial activity, knowledge transfer and product development should replace top-down destination management schemes and local authority controlled tourism networks.  Government can do this through designating tourism enterprise zones, with tax breaks and incentives to attract new businesses and to stimulate existing business to take on new staff and develop new products.  Moving Shoreditch’s Silicon roundabout to the Olympic Park won’t produce new forms of tourism that create opportunities for Olympic volunteers, or make full use of the excellent transport infrastructure that will connect East London to the tourism hotspots of the city.

 It is time to move tourism policy beyond a blind faith in the positive impacts of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games and to start concentrating on what come next.  Supporting innovation now will mean that the investment in trained and motivated volunteers won’t result in a de-motivated bulge in the local labour market post-2012.  Creating exciting new tourism experiences for a post-2012 tourism market can’t be done by decree, but a supportive innovation infrastructure could create an environment in which creative tourism entrepreneurs can flourish, creating the products that make use of the accommodation, transport and services that are being put in place for 2012.