The hospitality sector has been urged to prepare for the post-2012 Olympic period now if it is to fully capitalise on the opportunity the London games will provide.
At the World Travel Market at ExCel last week, Tourism Minister Shaun Woodward, Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, and VisitBritain chief executive Tom Wright called on the travel and hospitality industries to plan ahead to avoid missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
"It's all to do with image marketing," Frangialli said. "What to do to promote the country before, during and after the games. The UK is already a leading world destination. Spreading the Olympic effect beyond the main event is the major challenge for the UK."
Woodward described 2012 as "an enormous opportunity and an enormous challenge to refresh a world-leading brand - the UK".
"We are a youthful country with a hugely diverse ethnic culture and brilliant reputation for food, amongst other things, and we need to use these to be seen as a 21st-century destination," he said.
Wright said that while London 2012 will present unique challenges, the games would present a prime opportunity to showcase the quality of Britain to the world and set the country up for continued growth in tourism after the event.
"We have a unique opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of younger visitors between now and the Olympics," he said. "It is the opportunity of a lifetime for a lifetime of opportunity, and we've got to get it right."
VisitBritain predicts that 50-70% of the net economic benefit of the Olympics will accrue through tourism over 7-10 years. Early estimates suggest £2b could be generated and that almost two-thirds of this growth will happen in the four years after the games.
These figures highlight just how important the post-games period is, according to Wright. "When the Olympic torch moves on we need something wonderful to promote in 2013 and beyond, when interest in Britain will be at an all-time high," he said. "We know that sport has excellent tourism potential, and we need to present not only our heritage but also our modernity, too."
By Emily Manson
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