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Cultural tourism adds £3.2bn a year to London economy

London mayor Boris Johnson: "We must bring the tourism and cultural sectors closer together" London mayor Boris Johnson: "We must bring the tourism and cultural sectors closer together." Photo: Paul Toeman
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Cultural tourism – including theatregoing – contributes £3.2 billion a year to London’s economy, new research has revealed.

The report, called The Value of Cultural Tourism to London, was carried out by the Greater London Authority and has been published in conjunction with a new cultural tourism vision from the Mayor of London. It also found that 80,000 jobs are supported by cultural tourism in the capital.

Cultural tourism is defined as including areas such as theatre, opera, ballet and music, as well as museums, galleries, heritage sites and shopping.

The report found that 24% of international tourists visiting London attend the theatre. Of those visiting other parts of the UK, 18% attend theatre performances.

Other activities such as shopping and visiting parks and gardens, museums and religious buildings were found to have more disparity between London and the rest of the UK for international visitors.

The report also looked at domestic cultural tourism, both for overnight and day visits to London, and found that attending the theatre is the second most popular activity for overnight visitors, after visiting a museum. Domestic day visits that include a trip to the theatre also bring in the highest amount of expenditure out of all cultural activities – £684 million – according to the report.

In order to estimate the economic impact of all cultural tourism in London, the total expenditure for each of the three elements – international, domestic overnight and domestic day visits – has been transformed into gross value added, using UK data for 2013 from the Annual Business Survey. Gross value added measures the worth of services within a particular industry.

The value of cultural tourism to London was estimated as £3.2 billion in 2013, about 31% of total tourism GVA in London.

The report comes after the latest figures from the Society of London Theatre reported an 11th consecutive year of growth among West End theatre box office takings, measuring gross sales of more than £623 million in 2014. Similarly, attendances for the 53 theatres in full SOLT membership grew to 14.7 million in 2014, a 1% increase on the previous year.

Meanwhile, the London Theatre Report, which was published last year and includes data from all professional theatres in London, found that in 2012/13, more than 22 million people attended theatre performances across the capital.

The GLA’s report is published alongside a new vision for cultural tourism in London, which has been unveiled by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

In an introduction to the new vision, Johnson said that London could not afford to rest on its laurels when competing with other cultural destinations around the world.

“If we are to remain a world capital of culture, we must stay ahead of the game. That means bringing the tourism and culture worlds closer together to make sure visitors are able to enjoy the fantastic range of cultural activities right across our great city,” he said.

Johnson outlined a series of objectives as part of the vision, which include increased collaboration between the cultural and tourism sectors. This will come in the form of a new steering group made up of leading figures from both sectors and workshops for cultural professionals and the tourism industry to exchange ideas and practices.

An action plan for the future also includes publishing a white paper on the value of cultural tourism to London as well as commissioning new mayor-led tourism research.

Johnson also detailed how the voice of London’s culture must be “amplified”, and how the capital must be “better positioned as the gateway” to greater London and the rest of the UK.

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