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Good evening. It’s really wonderful to welcome you all to both Britain and London.
Tonight we’re in the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. A very fitting place to gather after what has been quite simply the best summer ever for this city and for Britain as a whole; with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and the inspirational Paralympics.
It is a summer that we and our children will remember for the rest of our lives. We welcomed the world to our shores and they got to see first-hand the very best of Britain: our people and our culture.
Our tourism industry had a vital role this summer. And as we keep the momentum going, it will continue to have a huge role to play. Our tourism industry helps us sell Britain, helps contribute to economic growth and helps drive investment.
The Olympics generated record tourist spend in this country - up 9% for August compared to the same month last year. The key will be to keep that going.
The changing face of tourism
The central role of tourism is nothing new. Throughout the ages, the ability to travel has lain at the heart of a country’s evolution. It has always been linked to business and growth, as people crossed continents in search of knowledge and fortune, as well as experiencing first-hand a country’s unique cultural offer.
Although first and foremost a backbone of commerce, travel has always been about aspiration and ambition; about curiosity, self-improvement and discovering something new.
Fundamentally, through the generations, travel has given us the opportunity to experience those differences at first-hand, not through the pages of a book or down a piece of cable. This, I believe, is the reason that tourism endures.
Whether it’s Marco Polo bringing back the secrets of the east to medieval Europe … or Renaissance merchants fuelling the spread of knowledge in the 16th century … or the grand tours inspiring the great works of Keats, Byron and Shelley at the time this building was created … experiencing those cultural differences for ourselves has enriched our lives and our society…our civilisations owe a heavy debt to that basic human instinct to see what lies beyond the horizon.
Changes over the years
Change is the one constant in travel, and nowhere more so than the last 60 years where the scale and the nature of tourism has transformed beyond recognition.
Globally, 25 million international arrivals were recorded in 1950. Europe and the Americas were tourist favourites between 1950 and 2000, representing a joint market share of over 95 per cent in 1950. But in the past two decades we have seen significant change, with Europe and the Americas taking 82% of the market in 1990 and just over a quarter in 2010.
Those figures remind us that this industry does not stand still, and that tourism is not something we can take for granted. The world is a much more accessible place. Today, travellers are even more adventurous, markets are more diverse and the global race is ever more competitive.
In Britain, the 1960s was a watershed. Overseas travel took off. Falling air fares and a proliferation of overseas packages saw a substantial rise in air travel. Holidays to Spain were particularly popular with Britons.
The 1970s saw the introduction of bigger aircraft and a rise in visits to North America.
The eighties saw people move from taking one holiday a year to more frequent, shorter trips.
The 1990s saw a new mode of travel open - the Channel Tunnel. Air routes and airlines increased. And budget airlines proliferated.
I see in my own family how this history has played out: as a 9-year-old my first trip abroad was to Spain; 20 years later my daughter’s first trip, aged 9 weeks, was to Canada.
Which brings us to today. Today, with cheaper flights and more flexibility opened up by digital technology, the number of global travellers has soared to around one billion a year, giving us all greater economic opportunities than ever before.
Opportunities for the future
And what we in Britain experienced several decades ago, we’re now seeing a thousand fold in the great emerging markets of China, India, Brazil and elsewhere.
They too want to experience for themselves, first-hand, the culture of the world. They too want to welcome the world to experience their natural wonders, culture and people.
By 2030, China alone will have 1.4 billion middle class consumers - more than America and Western Europe combined.
So - never has the opportunity to travel been opened up to so many, so quickly. And as major tourism destinations, we need to continue to adjust and ensure that we offer attractive and exciting opportunities, whether that’s for travellers or investors.
In Britain, this Government recognises that tourism is a cornerstone of growth. Currently our fifth biggest industry, many think it could be our fastest growing sector over the next decade.
That’s one of the reasons we’ve created our biggest ever marketing campaign - the GREAT campaign. A campaign that’s modern, innovative and inspiring, showcasing the very best of what Britain has to offer today, and demonstrating why our country is such a fantastic place to visit, study and do business.
Early forecasts on the financial returns from our investment in the GREAT campaign are really encouraging. Analysis shows that our investment in the campaign to date is projected to help generate around a quarter of a billion pounds for the British economy over the next two years.
And alongside our campaigns, we’re also working hard across Government to reduce any perceived barriers to tourism. To make clear that not only is Britain a great place to experience, but also an easy place to visit. To create the right conditions for both inward and outward tourism to thrive.
Competition and collaboration
We all appreciate that there is a global race. We are all focused on delivering the best opportunities for our countries. But, if campaigns such as GREAT set Britain up as a competitor to many here tonight, I also want to make a point about collaboration.
As the tourism sector expands and changes, it’s vital we - as leaders and guardians of the sector - work together to build this important global industry.
Yes to more technology, yes to greater opportunity, and yes please to removing barriers to growth. I know this summit has been weighing up some big questions; such as:
- How do we reconcile technology with the continued importance of meeting face-to-face and experiencing the culture of a country first-hand?
- How do we protect the environment and reduce climate change?
How do we open up and facilitate travel without compromising the security of our borders?
How do we make sure the fruits of growth are fairly shared across poorer nations so that tourism can help in fighting world poverty?
These are big issues, demanding a common response across the international community. So as rival destinations, let’s compete. But as leaders, let’s also collaborate.
Travel matters to people, it matters to the economy and it can contribute to the growth and prosperity of a nation. It is through those personal connections that come with travel that we really understand each other. I believe this is why people will continue to travel come-what-may.
That’s why even in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, there is cause for great hope and optimism. The foundations of our history are rooted in exploration and travel and I am sure that the foundations of our future will be too.
Thank you for coming to Britain and seeing the country we are so proud of. I very much look forward to working with you in the years ahead.