LONDON, July 26 (Reuters) - British tourism chiefs hope the Olympics and a global advertising campaign will entice more overseas visitors by 2015 and more than compensate for any short-term losses as the country tries to dig out from a double-dip recession.
Tourism Minister John Penrose said the 2012 Olympics had given Britain the chance to re-establish itself as a top destination after a drop in the number of tourist and business visitors over the past five years.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to get people interested in coming here next year and the year after that,” Penrose told a news conference on the eve of the London Olympics.
“We have a pretty good tourism market but we’re very conscious that this is not a static position. We need to come up with new and exciting reasons for people to come to Britain ... and it would be great to slay an old myth about British food.”
Critics have questioned whether Britain should be spending 9 billion pounds ($14 billion) on the Olympics when the economy is in dire straits. Economists have mixed views on what impact the Games will have on the economy, especially as previous Olympic hosts have found cashing in on the Olympics is no easy task.
Cost overruns and expensive maintenance of huge but rarely used venues have long been a financial burden for host cities, with many venues in Athens abandoned since the 2004 Games.
Organisers of Sydney 2000, one of the most successful modern Games, admit they did not plan carefully enough how to capitalise on the Games after the event was over and did not get the post-Olympic tourist bonanza it had hoped for.
Sadie Dawe, chief executive of national tourism agency VisitBritain, said tourist numbers usually fell in an Olympic year but Britain posted a surprising 7 percent rise in visitors between January and May 2012.
The landlord of large parts of London’s tourist district, the West End, said locals scared off by dire warnings of road and train chaos would likely cancel out any revenue boost from increased foreign visitors during the Games.
Brian Bickell, chief executive of Shaftesbury, which owns 330 shops and 217 restaurants, bars and cafes across areas like Chinatown, Covent Garden and Soho, said the transport warnings would convince many locals to stay at home.
“For weeks we’ve had stories of where to avoid, which potentially puts up a barrier in people’s minds that parts of London are no-go zones,” Bickell told Reuters on Thursday.
“People won’t go to the theatre if they are worried about getting back home afterwards.”
Penrose played down suggestions that the Olympics could drag Britain out its recession but he said such a major event could boost confidence in the country.
“We plan to maximise the possibilities that the Olympics will create,” said Penrose.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, under pressure to turn the economy around, is using the Olympics to drum up business with a series of trade and investment events starting on Thursday.
Figures on Wednesday showed the economy shrank by 0.7 percent between April and June, worse than the predicted 0.2 percent decline.
Dawe said a 35-million-pound ($55-million) advertising campaign was being rolled out in 21 countries over 18 months, including in the growth markets of China, India and Brazil.
Organisers are hoping the campaign, which is Britain’s biggest international tourism drive, could increase visitor numbers to about 35 million in 2015 from an estimated 30.7 million this year, which would mean a 20.3-billion-pound ($31.9-billion) injection for the British economy.
Britain had a record 32.7 million visitors in 2007.
“We are looking at recovering some of the market we lost during the credit crunch and building on it,” said Dawe.
Last year’s royal wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June and now the Olympics had put the international spotlight on Britain, Dawe said.
“Billions around the world will watch the Olympics and we aim to benefit from this massive global exposure,” she said.
Richard Dickinson, chief executive of the New West End Company, which represents more than 600 retailers, property owners and businesses in central London, expected the revenue benefit of the Games to be “very positive” over the long term.
“We’re looking at a way of projecting London the brand and the retail centre of London as a key destination and that will feed in over, one, two, three, four years. That’s where the real legacy is,” Dickinson told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Tom Bill and James Davey; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)