Coach tour of the M25 is a hit

For many drivers spending four hours sat on London’s M25 can be a frustrating experience. However there are tourists willing to spend £15 on a tour of the road.

Visitors are escorted around the ‘highlights’ of the London Orbital in this unusual coach tour. Surprisingly the tour has been so popular that extra dates have been added to meet the ‘huge’ demand. According to the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company tickets had sold out for the trip along the 117 mile ring road within just two months.

The trip takes visitors to Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, Epping Forest, Essex’s Lakeside Shopping Centre and the Dartford River Crossing Bridge.  The driver’s route will depend on the result of a coin toss, resulting in whether the driver travels clockwise or anti-clockwise. During the tour passengers are treated to a commentary on ‘interesting facts about the motorway’s evolution’.

Passengers are encouraged to take part in the coach’s competition where travellers have to guess the distanced travelled by the coach. The winner is then treated to a bottle of champagne. Roger French, the company’s spokesman described the motorway as ‘fascinating’ and ‘ironic’. The M25 first opened in October 1986 – costing an estimated £909 million – and has been mocked as ‘Britain’s biggest car park’ due to its congestion and on-going roadwork’s.

The company’s website said: “The M25 has been named the least entertaining and most boring road in Britain over the years.

“Let us try to prove these judgements wrong with a ‘flight of fancy’ around the London Orbital”. The bus company revealed that, one of the popular attractions for tourists is the chance to see Cobham’s newest services being built in Surrey. The services are set to include a McDonald’s, KFC and a Shell garage. The lot is set to be completed by the end of the summer.

Simon Ashcroft, a spokesman for the coach firm said that the first tour – which is set to take place in March – has sold out, and new dates have been added in April and May due to ‘huge public demand’.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

Queen’s Diamond Jubilee plans are revealed

As the country marks the day 60 years ago the Queen found out she would be ascending to the thrown, it has be unveiled that more than a million people are expected to line the River Thames for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant.

The celebrations will fall on the Bank Holiday weekend from June 2 to 5 will be focal point of the 2012 Jubilee celebrations. The Queen’s 60-year reign will be marked with a river pageant featuring 1,000-strong flotilla on the River Thames.

It has been predicted that at least a million people will line to river to watch the Queen’s royal barge go by.

The celebrations will not be confined to the UK, members of the Royal Family will be travelling to countries including Canada, Belize and Jamaica where the monarch is head of state, and the wider Commonwealth.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will also be travelling around every region of the UK between March and July to visit as many people as possible.

Pageant master Adrian Evans has set an outline of the event which will see the extended Diamond Jubilee bank holiday weekend at its centre the summer.

He said: ‘We’re planning for well over a million people to congregate on the Thames bridges, on balconies and riverside properties and the river’s edge to watch the pageant and salute the Queen, resplendent on the Thames in her glittering royal barge.

‘We’ll be placing just under 50 big screens along the pageant’s route to help people get the most of the day.

‘BBC, ITV and Sky will be broadcasting the event live and distributing their feed worldwide, taking the pageant’s audience into the hundreds of millions.

‘We hope the buildings along the pageant route will dress out in appropriate jubilee style, with bunting, Union flags and red, white and blue.

‘The pageant is a once-in-a-lifetime event, one that will reclaim the Thames as a royal route.’

 

The pageant will take place on Sunday June 3 and travel under 14 road and rail bridges and will feature 20,000 people on the water.

The flotilla will be divided into 10 sections, with the music barges separating each section.

Mr Evans, the event’s pageant master, said 115 boats, which carry tourists up and down the Thames, would be included in the festivities.

He added that he was aware that boat operators would be losing a day’s trade but did not want to see the public charged excessive prices and thought that prices asked for New Year’s Eve river trips were a suitable equivalent.

Mr Evans said: ‘We don’t want them to profiteer – we think it’s inappropriate.’

Marking her 60 years on February 6, the Queen released a statement saying:

‘I am writing to thank you for the wonderful support and encouragement that you have given to me and Prince Phillip over these years,’ she wrote in a message to the nation.

‘In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighborliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign.’

Tourists flock to Britain to spend a record £17.7bn at tourist attractions

The UK’s place as a top tourist destination has been firmly cemented as figures reveal that foreign tourists spent a record £17.7bn in 2011.

Last year also saw a record number of visitors to the UK for holidays, rather than business trips or those visiting family, a massive 12 million people, according to the Tourism organisation VisitBritain.

Totaling a massive 30.61 million visits to the UK by overseas residents, with the majority of these visiting in the first three-quarters of 2011. This was a rise of three per cent on last year, and the highest level seen since 2008.

Last year also saw a five per cent increase on North American visitors, a total of 3.57 million. On the other hand Brits made 56.05 million visits abroad in 2011, increasing just one per cent on the previous year. And the amount they spend shrank two per cent.

VisitBritain strategy and communications director Patricia Yates said: ‘As we look back on a positive 2011 for both holiday visits and spending, we want to make sure we capitalise on these gains by helping boost jobs across the country and create a lasting tourism legacy for many years to come.

‘We are encouraged that…the number of visitors coming to Britain from North America has risen. This is significant as we earn very nearly twice as much from US visitors than we do from any other source market.’

The news came as VisitBritain’s largest advertising campaign was launched in the capital by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

It hoes to attract a further 4.6 million tourists to the UK over the next four years, with the aim of securing an extra £2.3 billion in visitor spending.

 

‘Fantastic’ HS2 will go ahead

Today’s decision by the government to go give the green light to HS2 was greeted as “a fantastic day for the West Midlands” by business leaders in Birmingham but warned that the government must introduce legislation to start the project this year.

Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group (BCCG), said HS2, part of a larger High Speed Network, would create a fundamental change to the way people travel.

He said: “This is a fantastic day for the West Midlands. However, the imperative is to press ahead with all speed because delay will simply stall the impetus that today’s announcement has given.

“The transport secretary Justine Greening has indicated that it could be another two years before Parliament even votes on the proposition. This must not been allowed to happen. Delay would be damaging for the project and it would push it into the heart of an election campaign.

“The national interest must come first and business in Birmingham urges the government to press on with HS2 now so that it does not become bogged down in unnecessary Parliamentary procedures.

“The Government must look towards not only with pressing with the London-Birmingham HS2 link but publishing a plan soon for the route of the line north of Birmingham.

“HS2 will mean it will take just 39 minutes to travel from London to Birmingham and will help erode the north south divide by drawing investment and skilled workers away from the economic stranglehold of the south east.

“With rail growing at six per cent a year, and with no sign of abating, the Chamber applauds the Secretary of State for her decision to back the only viable solution to this looming capacity crunch.

“We have the Victorian’s to thank for our current railway network and it has served us well, but we are now well into the 21st Century and it’s about time we left our mark on the UK’s railway network.”

He added that HS2 has the potential to provide a huge to boost the region’s economy by creating jobs and making it easier for businesses to access markets quickly and efficiently.  In backing HS2 today the Secretary of State will help create 22,000 jobs in the West Midlands and boost the regional economy by £1.5 billion per annum.

HS2 forms part of a larger High Speed Network that will eventually link the main cities of the UK to one another and provide a fundamental change in the way people travel.  The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group and the business community in general has been a vocal advocate of HS2.  Indeed a survey of Chamber members found that over 70 per cent of businesses in Birmingham and Solihull support HS2.

 

Olympic Games unlikely to boost UK tourism

In 2012 we will welcome two of the biggest UK events in decades, however the country is unlikely to see a boost in the number of tourists visiting the UK next year.

 

In June celebrations will commence for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the Olympic Games will take place in July and August, however according to VisitBritain neither of these big events will product a significant boom in tourism from overseas.

 

The UK tourist authority has predicted that 30.7million travellers will head to Britain next year – around the same amount of tourists recorded from the past 12 months.

 

Authorities have blamed the Olympics for the expected tourism figures, stating that would-be tourists see the event as much a turn-off as others see it as a reason to travel.

 

Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain said: “History tells you (the Olympic Games) have displacement effect in the year of the event. Lots of people say: ‘I’ll give it a miss’”.

 

The challenge for us is to counter the displacement effect with an active marketing programme to encourage people to consider Britain in 2012”.

 

A £100million marketing fund to boost tourism has been announced by the Government, even though the economic benefit of next year’s 30.7million tourists is expected to be only £17.6million.

 

Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain said: “While these (visitor) figures are in line with expected numbers in 2011, maintaining current visitor levels would be a good outcome in a year that is proving difficult to predict due to the current global economic climate and the impact this may have in many of our key markets”.

 

She added: “Visit Britain is working hard to ensure that the Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations will generate positive PR for Britain, taking advantage of the global interest and creating a lasting tourism legacy for the future”.

 

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

‘Fake’ London Dungeon found to be real

A London Dungeon exhibit has been given added creepy credibility after an artificial human skeleton has revealed to be real.

 

The skeleton which has been at the attraction since 1975, is now believed to date back much further.

 

Bill Edwards, curator at Guy’s Hospital medical museum believes the remains – which consist of a rib cage and backbone – were wired together in the 1950s.

 

On Friday he will return to the South London attraction to see if a second skeleton, which hangs in a cage in the museum, is also real.

 

According to the BBC, he said: “I need to go back and examine that one more closely when the Dungeon team can get it down from the wall”.

 

“But from what I could see, it looks either human, or a combination of some human and some artificial parts”.

 

Since the revelation of the first human skeleton, the London Dungeon must decide whether they are willing to obtain a £2,000 a year licence from the Human Tissues Authority.

 

Mark Oakley, Spokesman for the London Dungeon said: “We had suspicions that these skeletons might be real, but it still came as a bit of a shock to have it confirmed”.

 

“We have yet to decide what to do. We’ve even talked about giving them a dignified burial. We’re still mulling that. We’ll probably go and look at some artificial skeletons and see how good they are”.

 

Catherine Pritchard, operations manager for the museum said there were suspicions surrounding the skeleton, dating back to when the bodies were ‘smuggled’ in from the Far East to be used by early anatomists for dissection.

 

In the coming weeks the remains were ready to be moved to the dungeon’s yearly ‘Satan’s Grotto’, however other props will now be used.

 

Mr Oakley said: “The London Dungeon is full of secrets and we’re forever turning up surprises”. He added that the museum recently found that the Dungeon was close to a World Ward Two bomb shelter, which was the scene of ‘quite a horrific tragedy’.

 

The London Dungeon is home to ‘1000 years of London’s darkest and most gory history’.

 

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

London could suffer 95 per cent tourism slump during Olympic’s

In a survey conducted among its members, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) has discovered that a major slump in leisure tourism bookings is underway.

At the end of October 2011, ETOA canvassed 38 operators who move more than two million people annually to London. They revealed that they were expecting a significant downturn throughout 2012.

This looks like it will be extremely severe in July and August, where operators are currently seeing a 60percent shortfall in bookings, becoming acute during the period of the Olympic Games where bookings are running at 95 percent below where they would normally be. Bookings for the rest of the year are running at 20percent below this time last year.

“This is still very early in the booking cycle,” said Tom Jenkins, Executive Director of ETOA, “And only reflects what our normal leisure customers are doing. We always see a decline in demand for a destination during an Olympic year.

Clients tend to think that a city has priorities other than being a place to visit for a normal holiday, so some of this was to be expected. But this tendency is becoming absolute as the hotel rates climb in July and August. During the Olympic period itself, there is currently almost no demand from regular tourists. For foreign visitors there is near total displacement by the Games.”

“One of the main reasons for the drop is that the hotels believe that they are going to be full. London appears to have priced itself out of the market in July and August,” said John Boulding, President of Insight Vacations, a leading luxury tour operator, ”Insight has won a Queens Award for Export, but we have had no choice but to remove London from our best-selling European ‘Panorama’ tours in July and August. Each one will start and finish on the Continent. They are selling well, but they are selling without the UK.”

These figures represent only current trends in leisure tourism. These may change. They do not account for what corporate business may come, or for those people who are coming for the Olympics. But bookings for London will have to strengthen enormously to make up for this shortfall: London has 125,000 hotel rooms to fill. Foreign Olympic visitors averaged no more than 25,000 people per night in Athens. And July and August are normally the two busiest months for inbound tourists: they usually represent 22% of foreign visitor arrivals.

London is a gateway for the rest of the UK. If the UK as a whole suffers an equivalent decline, then £3.5billion of business will be lost to the British economy as a whole during July and August alone.

The problem for the tourism industry is that, even if London does fill with Olympic enthusiasts, they do not behave as normal tourists. Their presence is determined by their interest in an atypical event. They do not come to shop, to sightsee, or to attend the theatre.

“We anticipate a significant decline in business in July and August 2012 for London theatres and attractions,” said John Wales, Managing Director of Encore Tickets, one of London’s leading theatre ticket agencies, who sell over 2 million tickets annually, “At present I anticipate sales from tourists to be at least 40percent down on last year, so we are looking urgently at alternative customers to the traditional inbound visitor that has been displaced.”

“We know that there will be a large drop in demand next summer,” said Nick Palan, owner of Golden Tours, a major sightseeing operator in London,
“and this is having a major impact on our capital investment plans. Furthermore, such is the projected disruption on the roads; there is a major concern whether any tours in London can be operated at all during the Olympic period.”

This does not bode well for the legacy of the Games. Scaring away customers, on the assumption that they will gratefully return is an unconventional sales tactic. “The long-term trend implications are huge,” said John Boulding, “The UK has traditionally been part of a visit to ‘Europe’ for long-haul visitors. But they can then save time, avoid high visa costs, and benefit from Schiphol’s or Charles de Gaulle’s freedom from APD if they avoid the UK. The Olympics is now making them do so. The legacy of this example is not a happy picture for the UK.”

Commuters urged to travel differently during London 2012

Transport Minister Norman Baker today urged commuters and businesses in London to think differently about how they travel during the Olympic Games as he marked a year to go to what is likely to be one of the busiest days on the transport network.

Modelling by Games organisers predict that 3 August 2012 will see an extra three million trips made on top of the 12 million trips on public transport being made on an average London workday. This is due to it being the first day for track and field, and with events at larger capacity venues such as the Olympic Stadium, Horse Guards Parade and the Aquatics Centre the number of spectators are likely to peak.

In order to manage the increased number of people using the Capital’s transport network, the Government wants commuters and Londoners to travel and work differently during the Games. For example commuters who live near work, or travel short distances within central London, are being urged to cycle or walk to work. Those who live further away are being encouraged to try different routes; stagger their journey times to avoid the busiest periods; work remotely; or use video conferencing for meetings.

Norman Baker was speaking at BT where he was shown innovative new ways for businesses and individuals to work remotely from both home and the office. He said:

“The Games will be a once-in-a-generation test for both our transport system and our adaptability. As we edge ever closer to the Olympics, hand-in-hand with new investment must go new solutions.

“I am the first ever transport minister to have official responsibility for alternatives to travel and the Olympics will be a key time to really embrace these ideas. It’s time to oil the creaking bike, dig out the walking boots, work out how to use the video conferencing equipment, and fire up the laptop gathering dust at the back of the cupboard.

“And of course Government has to play its part – at DfT we’ll be cutting our travel footprint by half during the Games, with similar initiatives across Whitehall. But all businesses need to play their part too – there’s plenty of help and advice out there so no excuse why we can’t reduce the amount we travel during the 17 days of the Games.”

In the run up to the Olympics around £6.5bn has been invested in upgrading and extending transport links including the first ever domestic high speed train in Britain, new stations, more tube trains and line extensions. And, as well as the big ticket items, investment has been put into everyday improvements such as innovative customer travel information systems and more user-friendly walking, cycling and river routes.

Windsor Castle’s famous round tower is reopened

Yesterday the world famous round tower at Windsor Castle re-opened it’s doors to the public for the first time in almost 40 years.

Closed in 1975 for construction work including under-pinning to stop subsidence, the tower was then converted into offices for the Royal Archives, and hasn’t open to the public until now.

The 800-year-old landmark in Berkshire will no doubt be a top tourist attraction over the summer months.

The re-opening will also be marked with a new tour ‘Conquer the Tower’. This will include walking up the 200 step to take in views over London and Windsor from 65.5 meters up.

The round tower was build by Henry II in 1170. William the Conqueror then replaced the heath stone with wooden Norman keep.

At the heart of the property sits an artificial mound, called a motte, formed by chalk spoil from the surrounding ditch.

Today the tower looks as it did when George IV remodelled it in the 1820’s. In line with his romantic notion of castle architecture, the tower was heightened by nine metres and given gothic-style battlements.

The 45-minute Conquer the Tower tours will run daily until September 30.

Demand for accommodation soars as Londoners rent their way to gold during Olympics

Figures released today by HomeAway.co.uk, UK arm of the market leader of the online holiday rentals industry, reveal that London homeowners are benefiting from an unprecedented demand for holiday rentals during the London Games. Demand for rental properties in London for the Olympic summer of 2012 has increased by 131 times as compared to the previous year.

It is expected that home owners looking to cash in on the leap of interest could generate an average of £4,500 by renting their home during the 16 day-long event; an average of £2,000 per week. Londoners thinking about doing this can now find out how much a property similar to theirs could make using HomeAway.co.uk’s newly launched interactive Olympic Rental Map. The Map calculates the average income you could expect to make from your home; taking into account the rental rate increase the Olympics is expected to spark as well as proximity to sporting venues and transport hubs.

The Olympics has the potential to earn millions in rental income for homeowners in the Capital. There are currently over 700 London properties available for rent on www.HomeAway.co.uk and the company is expecting weekly rental rates for those properties to increase by almost 150% on average, echoing a trend for price spikes seen during the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg.

Tim Boughton, UK General Manager, HomeAway.co.uk said: “We have observed a steady increase in tourists looking for holiday rentals, with particularly high peaks in demand around major global sporting events. These latest figures confirm that London will be no exception. Enquiries for London properties have skyrocketed, particularly those properties in close proximity to the key Olympics sites and with good transport links to London’s top attractions. This, combined with the expected repetition of the 150% increase in rental prices seen at the 2010 World Cup, means savvy Londoners will truly be going for gold next summer.”