London bounces back

Mike Fletcher reports on how the city responded to a slump in visitor numbers in the wake of the July bombings.

One of the aims of the terrorists who attacked London's transport network on 7 July was to set Londoner against Londoner by stirring up mistrust between different religions and cultures.

But the crowd of more than 60,000 who flocked to the Brick Lane Festival on 11 September proved that the terrorists failed to achieve this. People of all backgrounds and faiths united as Londoners and enjoyed al fresco curry, global music, fashion and art at the festival's 10th anniversary celebrations, this year staged as an integral part of the Everyone's London campaign.

On 12 August, the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group reported: "Following the 7 and 21 July incidents in the capital, London and the UK's visitor economies are still expected to see overall growth in the long term. But there is real concern for forward bookings and revenues for the rest of the year. There is also evidence of dispersal of visitors from London to the rest of the UK."

As a result, tourism agency Visit London conducted its own consumer research in domestic and global markets. It found that attitudes to London hadn't changed but that many families were hesitant about visiting the city.

"There's no doubt that the summer tourism figures were taking a hit, especially from children and families, so we needed a recovery plan," says Visit London chief executive James Bidwell.

The plan put in place was for the Mayor's office and Visit London to launch Everyone's London on 17 August. The multimillion pound marketing and PR campaign, backed by Transport for London, was aimed at attracting domestic visitors and international visitors back to the capital. It included 100 scheduled free events but well over 400 pieces of client event activity.

A London in September spin-off campaign was launched on 25 August to promote the array of free events that are staged annually across the city, while new activity was also planned as part of the September schedule.

"The aim was to amplify the existing event activity and put more resource into staging new events such as the Olympics party in Trafalgar Square that kicked off the campaign on 1 September," says Bidwell. "We were cruelly robbed of an opportunity to celebrate winning the 2012 Olympic Games and we felt that London deserved the chance to celebrate and honour the achievements of the bid team in securing the games for London for the first time since 1948."

On 4 September, Regent Street staged its six-year-old festival, produced by the Regent Street Association. The West End thoroughfare was transformed into a garden lover's paradise and grass, water features, hedges, statues and plants replaced the Sunday traffic and buses.

Regent Street Association director Annie Walker says: "The theme of each year's event offers retailers the chance to plan their autumn window displays around it and to become involved with a celebration of West End shopping. Many of the stores had deckchairs and grass laid outside for people to sit and Austin Reed even served tea to passers-by."

Visitors who left Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus tube stations met with entry gardens at either end of Regent Street. More than 300,000 people passed through these, and experienced activity that included fresh produce from market stalls, performances from emerging talent in the Apple Store, Esprit, Hobbs and Hamleys, and an appearance by Ascot Park Polo Club, which brought practice blocks and polo ponies to the heart of London.

Other highlights included a sound installation created by Eighties pop singers Martyn Ware and Vince Clarke. The garden shed mixed sounds of the countryside with the traffic noises associated with Regent Street.

"The sound shed was one of the more surreal moments of the festival, along with seeing polo being played in the middle of the West End," Walker says. "We attracted 50,000 more people than last year's event mainly due to the support of Visit London's campaign."

The success of the formula led to Oxford Street launching its own festival, which brought the curtain down on the Everyone's London campaign. Agency New West End Company joined forces with the Mayor of London, Transport for London, Visit London, Westminster City Council and radio station Heart 106.2 to stage the event for shoppers on 1 October.

'Celebrate Oxford Street - Dress to Impress' was a day of programmed, retail-led events that combined in-store and on-street fashion, music, celebrity and street entertainment. Charlotte Church performed in Selfridges and Rachel Stevens and Liberty X took to the Heart stage as for the first time in the street's history, it was closed to traffic.

John Lewis director of retail operations Gareth Thomas says: "All the retailers came together and worked together as never before to remind people what a great range of shops Oxford Street has to offer."

John Lewis had a steel band and a jazz band playing on stilts outside the store and staged more than 40 different events in-store. Snooker player John Virgo showcased trick shots in the sports department, live bands played on each floor, three furnishing advice shows took place on the second floor and four fashion shows ran throughout the day on the first floor, showcasing the autumn collections.

New West End Company chief operating officer Gary Reeves, says: "We were delighted to support the Oxford Street retailers and I personally hope we can maintain this as an annual event. There's no competition between ourselves and the Regent Street festival as we are both only concerned with the West End's wellbeing and the challenges that both streets face."

Another new event to be staged during September saw Tower Bridge play host to a rock concert for the first time in its 111-year history. Scottish five-piece band Texas performed on Tower Bridge's elevated walkway, 130ft above the river, to an audience of ticket-winners on 6 September.

Visit London's Bidwell says: "Virgin Radio teamed up with Visit London to make music history with this gig and 200 people saw something that could only have happened in London. It showed the world what a surprising and cutting edge place the capital can be."

The River Thames, often seen as an under-utilised event space, also played its part in the month-long campaign. On 16 September a flotilla of boats made its way along the river from Greenwich in a solemn re-enactment of the funeral of Lord Nelson after his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Oarsmen in the uniforms of 200 years ago made their way upriver, accompanying the New Trafalgar Dispatch contained in a scale replica coffin of the one that carried Nelson along the same route. The Flotilla was greeted by a 15-gun salute from HMS Belfast and berthed at the headquarters ship, Wellington, at Middle Temple pier, where the Princess Royal and the Dean of St Paul's met the first Sea Lord aboard the crafts.

Two days later the river formed the backdrop to The Mayor's Thames Festival from 17-18 September, as a riverside bazaar with food, drink, arts and craft from around the world set up its pitch between Tower Bridge and Westminster Bridge. Next to Tate Modern, a live performance by musician Robert Miles was accompanied by spectacular projections on to a helium-filled sphere that rose above the audience's heads.

Then on the Sunday evening, a night carnival saw 2,000 musicians, dancers and performers with illuminated costumes parade with floats along Victoria Embankment and across Blackfriars Bridge. The firework finale to the Thames Festival was set off from a barge on the river between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges.

Visit London's Bidwell concludes: "Following the London bomb attacks we knew that we had to respond positively and quickly but leave enough space for the recovery from the shock of what happened.

"The Everyone's London and London in September campaigns have been great examples of what we the city can achieve by working as a collective strength - and we have proved that a dynamic event strategy works as an effective driver for brands such as London."


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