Good afternoon everybody.
It might be hard to picture it today, but a little over two years ago this building was welcoming the world to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
It hosted all kinds of sports – table tennis, fencing, wrestling…
I actually came here myself to watch taekwondo!
Go back another three years and Excel was the home of the G20 summit.
Presidents and Prime Ministers from the world’s leading nations gathered here to talk about the financial crisis, globalisation and other issues of massive international importance.
I want to pick up where they left off.
I’m here today to talk about a seven trillion dollar industry.
One that reaches every corner of the world, accounts for almost 10 per cent of global GDP, and supports more than a quarter of a billion jobs.
I’m talking, of course, about tourism and travel.
Too many people think of tourism as just a matter of cocktails by the pool, sandcastles on the beach and Instagrams of sunsets.
We all know it’s a lot more important than that.
Few other industries span the globe in such an all-encompassing way.
And, unlike much of the international economy, it’s a sector that’s expanding fast.
The WTTC predicts growth of four per cent in each of the next 10 years, creating employment for millions more people.
But it’s not just about the money.
Global tourism creates global citizens.
Little more than a century ago, most people’s horizons spread no further than the distance they could walk in a day.
When I was a child, foreign holidays were a distant dream, something only the wealthy would consider.
Today, people of all nations criss-cross continents every day of the year.
And in doing so they contribute to the biggest and most wide-ranging face-to-face exchange of ideas and ideologies the world has ever known.
Thanks to the travel industry, ordinary citizens have become ambassadors.
Ambassadors who get under the skin of the nations they visit.
Who appreciate and understand foreign cultures.
Who get to know the real people who inhabit once-mysterious lands.
Soft power pioneer Joseph Nye writes that in the 21st century countries can become great by “providing things that people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain on their own”.
And to be competitive in 2014 that is exactly what tour operators, travel agents and airlines have to provide.
Something unique that a potential tourist’s own country cannot deliver.
It’s not enough to offer the same old tick-list of must-see sights and unmissable museums.
You need to offer new destinations, new experiences, new sights, sounds and smells.
Your industry demands the novel and the new.
So you might be surprised when I say that, to find it, you need look no further than the UK.
Everyone knows what the UK has to offer tourists, right?
The British Museum, London Eye and Tower Bridge.
All mixed in with quaint little pubs, double-decker buses and red telephone boxes.
I don’t know what it is about the telephone boxes that tourists seem to like so much…
There’s one right outside my office.
Every day I see more people snapping selfies in front of the phone box than over the road at the Houses of Parliament!
The great sights of London are just that, great.
That’s why London is consistently ranked as the world’s most-visited city, with almost 19 million tourists dropping by this year alone.
Some even say the British capital has become too popular.
Last month a columnist called Rachel Johnson called on her brother – an up-and-coming local politician named Boris – to place a cap on the number of people allowed to visit.
She thought it would make it easier for the locals to go shopping on Oxford Street.
And, presumably, to fight their way through the crowds when they wanted to use a phone box…
Needless to say, I don’t agree with her!
London is a great city and a great destination, and I want as many people from around the world to experience everything it has to offer.
But you all know how exciting it is here.
So do your customers.
And, as I’ve said, today’s travellers are no longer satisfied with the beaten path.
They want to go beyond the guidebook, beyond what they can see online.
They want unique experiences.
And the UK has them in spades, because there is a lot more to this country than its awesome capital city.
Don’t just take my word for it.
In just one guidebook – Lonely Planet’s 2014 Travel Lists – life outside London crops up on almost every page.
Yorkshire is listed as one of world’s finest regions, rated ahead of everywhere from Victoria Falls to Texas.
And the best road trip to take in 2014?
Forget driving a vintage Mustang down Route 66.
In 2014, it’s all about taking a VW camper on a tour of Cornwall.
Rough Guide readers have named Wales as one of the greatest countries on earth to visit.
AOL Travel says a walk along the Pembrokeshire coastline is up there with the trek to Machu Picchu.
Trip Advisor recently named the 10 best restaurants anywhere in the world.
Three of them are in the UK – and two are outside London.
Even the most powerful man on earth can’t get enough of our unique offering.
When Barack Obama was in the UK for September’s NATO summit, he took the opportunity to tick Stonehenge off his bucket list.
“How cool is this?”
Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme was similarly impressed with Britain.
When the race rolled through the stunning countryside of Yorkshire this summer, he called it “Unbelievable, incredible, amazing, astonishing.”
The sport doesn’t end there.
Next year we’ll host the Rugby World Cup.
The organisers have already received more than five million ticket applications, more than any world cup in history.
It’s going to be a massive event with an electric atmosphere.
And of course, every year England is home to the world’s biggest and best football league.
Visit the likes of Anfield or Old Trafford and, even when there isn’t a game on, you’ll see people from around the world queuing up for stadium tours.
You don’t have to be a sports fan to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the UK.
The British Council recently asked 5,000 people in five countries what the most attractive thing about Britain was.
And the number one answer was our amazing culture.
Edinburgh is home to one of the biggest and the best-known arts festivals in the world, but it’s by no means the only one in the UK.
From Loopallu in the Highlands of Scotland to Glastonbury in the South-West of England, the UK puts on a dazzling array of cultural events that, between them, draw literally millions of visitors.
Our famous literary heritage is a particular draw.
This year has seen dozens of events to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.
In 2016 there’ll be a similar programme to mark 400 years since his death.
Go to South Wales right now and you can take part in the Dylan Thomas Festival, honouring what would have been the great writer’s 100th birthday.
Every year, Enniskillen holds the Happy Days Samuel Beckett festival.
Or you could visit the incredible landscapes that inspired so many of our great authors.
You can walk the Shropshire hills immortalised by AE Housman; reflect on the life of the Brontë sisters in Haworth; or go to the Lake District and read Wordsworth, Coleridge and Potter.
That’s Beatrix Potter, by the way.
Although fans of the world’s favourite young wizard also have plenty to enjoy, with numerous locations from the Potter films open to the public.
Gloucester Cathedral and Lacock Abbey have both stood in for Hogwarts, while Harry learned to fly his broomstick in the grounds of Alnwick Castle.
In fact, the UK is full of grand old buildings that will be familiar from film and TV – a sign of just how successful our £71 billion creative industries have become.
First among them is Highclere Castle, better known to millions of people around the world as Downton Abbey.
Elsewhere, Chatsworth House played the role of Mr Darcy’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, Brideshead Revisited was shot at Castle Howard, and Blenheim Palace provided the backdrop for The Young Victoria.
Don’t enjoy period drama?
How about visiting Wollaton Hall, Batman’s home in The Dark Knight Rises?
Or Northern Ireland’s Castle Ward – which Game of Thrones fans will recognise as Winterfell.
The list goes on and on.
Whether you want to build a holiday around sport, sightseeing or star-spotting, the UK offers a massive range of experiences and excursions that your customers will not have encountered before.
And for too long, this side of Britain – life outside London – has been our best-kept secret.
People were shocked last month when Salisbury was listed alongside Milan and Vienna as a must-visit city for 2015.
Anyone who’s been there could tell you what a magnificent place it is, yet the idea of shouting about it on the world stage seemed almost comical to some.
It’s time for that attitude to change.
Our 2011 tourism strategy was designed to increase numbers on the back of the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee.
To say it has been successful would be a gross understatement.
Last year the UK welcomed more tourists than ever before, and they spent more money than ever before while they were here.
In 2009, the UK languished in 11th place in the World Economic Forum review of global travel and tourism competitiveness.
Today we’re ranked 5th.
Now we need to build on that success.
I was born in Rochdale, raised in Bristol and represent Bromsgrove.
I know as well as anyone that our country – our ENTIRE country – is full of incredible sights and experiences.
And it’s absolutely vital that we share them with travellers and tour operators around the world.
I want to see all of Britain’s tourism bodies working together to develop and showcase a range of compelling offers, not just in one city but right across the country.
We’re already updating GREAT, our award-winning international marketing campaign, with the launch of “Countryside is GREAT” in January.
But I want to go further, and we’ll be publishing our recommendations how to make this happen in the New Year.
Elsewhere, we’re already making it cheaper to visit the UK by scrapping the highest rates of air passenger duty on long-haul flights.
So with more direct flights to powerhouses such as Birmingham and Manchester, it’s never been easier to fly in to our vibrant regional cities.
We’re also making life easier for tourists from emerging markets by improving our visa service.
Earlier this year we announced a streamlined service for Chinese visitors.
And last week we started accepting Irish visas from Chinese nationals, a service that will shortly be extended to Indian nationals too.
I’m proud of the service we offer, and it compares well with many of our international rivals.
But we can always do better.
Customer expectations are always increasing, and we need to keep pace with them.
I want our visa operation to be the best there is.
A fast, effective and efficient service that’s the envy of the world.
I’m working alongside the Home Secretary to deliver this, and I hope to share more success stories with you soon.
Of course, the travel industry doesn’t just need to be promoted overseas.
It needs support at home, too.
So we’re helping deliver the skilled workforce the sector needs, with a new Tourism Industry Council dedicated to training and development.
It’s all about attracting the brightest and best to what is one of Britain’s fastest-growing sectors.
And I’m very pleased to see the industry taking a proactive role and leading this initiative.
So we’re making progress.
But there’s more that we can do to make modern Britain a number-one destination.
Because international travel isn’t just about tourism.
This country is home to some of the world’s largest companies.
Thanks to this government’s long-term economic plan, we’re growing faster than any other developed economy.
There’s no doubt about it – the UK is at the centre of global business.
Now I want us to be a centre for business travel, too.
The presence of the World Travel Market here in London shows that we’re already staging major conferences.
Over the next three days, 50,000 people from 186 countries will meet with staff from almost 5,000 organisations.
It’s a massive event for a massive industry, and one that I’m very proud to support.
But – again – I know there’s a lot more we can do.
The international business event market is huge and growing, and the UK should be leading the way.
Right now we have some of the best event organisers in the world, but they’re spending too much of their time putting on shows overseas.
I’ve already mentioned the G20 and NATO summits.
If we can manage international events like that – not to mention the Tour de France, the Ryder Cup and the Olympic Games – why can we not be a number one destination for business conferences?
So I’m delighted to announce that the Government, working in partnership with the events industry, is going to develop a joint strategy to support growth in this sector.
It will set out in black and white what the UK needs to do to punch above its weight in the business travel market just as we do in other areas of trade and industry.
The wide-ranging strategy will look at the roles played by government and industry.
And it will describe exactly what action we’ll be taking to make the UK a more attractive destination for business travellers.
The UK is a very special place.
For centuries it has offered travellers incredible sights and sounds they could not experience anywhere else.
And in 2014, that tradition continues.
Hearing the roar of the crowd at Old Trafford.
Looking out over the landscape that inspired beloved authors.
Breathing in the night air as you walk through Birmingham’s Balti Triangle.
Whether you’re passionate about sport, culture, food or anything else, the UK has something unique for visitors to enjoy.
Britain may be one of the oldest countries in the world.
But we are a new destination for the 21st century.
So – on behalf of the UK Government – I want to welcome all of you to the United Kingdom.
I want to encourage as many of you as possible, to use your time here not only to explore what this City has to offer…
But also to experience some of the incredible opportunities across the rest of the country.
And I hope that all of you have a really productive conference.