London Cultural Tourism Workshop

The June event held at City Hall saw arts managers and tourism chiefs come together to reveal:

  • 90% of London visitors head for the top 20 attractions
  • Hackney Wick has world’s highest concentration of artists per square mile

Londoners know that the capital city is one of the world’s greatest cultural destinations and that there are endless interesting new places and arts events to discover. So how does the arts and culture community show its best face to visitors and make sure they’re not just seeing Buckingham Palace and Big Ben? This was one of many things discussed at the London Cultural Tourism Workshop at City Hall on 30 June.

1. In London, 90% of visitors head for the top 20 attractions

Around four out of five tourists come to London because of the city’s incredible culture and heritage, so it seems a shame the vast majority of them will spend their time here visiting the top 20 biggest attractions, such as the British Museum and the London Eye. These places are of course great, but the city can offer so much more than that. Munira Mirza, deputy mayor for culture, summed this problem up when she said: “We need to break out of the old stereotype of beefeaters and the Tower of London.”

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2. Technology is changing everything about the way cultural tourism works

Apps such as YPlan, Instagram and even dating app Tinder are transforming the ways in which people go out and experience cities. Not so long ago in London, if you wanted to go out you had to buy a copy of Time Out, flick through and hopefully settle on something cultural. Fast forward 10 years and this is all but extinct and Time Out now has a wildly successful app.

3. Tourists don’t want to be tourists anymore; they want to become locals

Which brings us on to the biggest tourism app of them all, Airbnb. The company’s phenomenal growth shows just how much holidays – and visitors themselves – are changing. This is in no small part thanks to social media and greater communication between people from different countries.

Airbnb hosts not only give visitors somewhere to sleep, but also tips on where to eat, what to do and the best places to visit that are more off the beaten track. Tourists want to feel more like locals in a city than holidaymakers.

4. Ask for a map of London in a hotel and it will stop at Shoreditch

James McClure, Airbnb’s UK and Ireland general manager, explained why so much of London’s best bits are being left off the agenda: “Next time you’re walking past a big, nice hotel, go to reception and ask for a map of London. When I did this, the map stopped at Brick Lane. That’s not a map.”

For those of us who live in and love Peckham, Hackney, Walthamstow or one of the city’s exciting areas even further afield, this will feel like a pretty low blow. Which brings us on to the next point …

5. Hackney Wick has the highest concentration of artists per square mile than anywhere else in the world

This astonishing stat was cited by Anna Maloney, director of Hackney WickED, an organisation that provides a platform for artists in the local area to showcase their work. This concentration of artists could get even bigger with the development of the Olympicopolis in the nearby Olympic Park. The Stratford Waterfront is set to be turned into a cultural area with the V&A, Sadler’s Wells and more due to set up shop there.

6. It’s vital for cultural institutions to engage with the local community

But it’s not just the east that needs to engage; even established institutions could do more to get involved with the people living around them.

Lorna Lee, head of culture and heritage at the Borough of Waltham Forest, led the transformation of the William Morris Gallery from a niche museum to a widely known institution. She explained that it took some work to engage with the people of Walthamstow, but in the end something as simple as making sure leaflets were delivered to nearby houses, rather than being kept at the museum’s reception desk, made a huge amount of difference.

7. But some institutions are losing their local communities

Rising property prices and the selling-off of social housing to private landlords is leaving a lot of properties – and, as a result, entire London neighbourhoods – empty.

A delegate from the Wallace Collection, Simone Stewart, said: “The local community have moved out. The houses have been bought by non-residential rich people who don’t contribute much to the local community.”

8. The people with the UK’s highest level of cultural engagement live in Kensington and Chelsea – those with the least live just 12 miles east, in Newham

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, brought up this eye-opening statistic to make the point that institutions shouldn’t just work on attracting tourists – they also need to reach out to culturally disengaged people who live here.

“I went to an event in central London, and there were people from the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets and Newham who had never been to Trafalgar Square before,” he said. “We should be reaching out to those people too.”

The London Cultural Tourism Workshop took place on 30 June, for which the Culture Professionals Network was media partner

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