Opinion: Tourism gains from London 2012? Only if we fix the transport system

So, the 2012 Olympics in London will be a great showcase for UK tourism, according to tourism minister Margaret Hodge.

Do government ministers get paid for stating the patently obvious? And is she even correct in this rather complacent assumption?

First, why should Britain rely on the Olympic Games to promote itself as tourist destination? It is a bit like those people who justify the monarchy in terms of inbound tourism, when France – a republic for more than 200 years – is actually the world’s most successful tourism destination.

Yes, royalty may be a draw for some people – so might be the Olympic Games (for two weeks every century or so) – but successful UK tourism will rely on a lot more than these.

Hopefully we are now a modern, culturally advanced country with improving and competitively priced food and hotel stock. Even if we are, then either inbound or domestic tourism is more likely to be boosted by advancements in the UK’s disintegrating transport infrastructure. This is something the government really should be prioritising.

Have you been through London Victoria station recently?  It is overcrowded, there are too few ticket machines and no logic to the traffic flow of people, many entrances to the underground are closed – all right in the middle of the peak tourism period.

I could go on. And I would certainly advise against an ambitious tourism schedule on our national railways on any given Sunday.

Equally, getting into central London from Heathrow remains a joke compared with a truly modern city such as Hong Kong.

Talking of which, how does the government intend to ship the potential hordes of tourists from London’s main gateway – Heathrow – to the Olympic base in East London? Is Crossrail going to be ready by 2012? I don’t think so.

The complacency of government is highlighted when one looks at the criticism faced by the last two cities to hold the games. Athens looked a shambles for much of the time. And Beijing is hardly a PR success for China as I write this.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy our capital will be the next location for this supreme sporting occasion. But what we don’t need are bland statements about how it will be great for UK tourism. Instead we need a reality check.

London 2012 could be a brief showcase for British tourism, but there are some serious problems to overcome first.

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