Comment: The Olympic legacy must be about more than just tourism

Culture secretary Maria Miller delivered a barely-keynote speech on tourism and the Olympic legacy on Tuesday - but surely the legacy is more than just tourism?


Culture secretary Maria Miller delivered a barely-reported keynote speech on tourism and the Olympic legacy on Tuesday – bigging tourism up as “key to UK growth strategy” and highlighting the role of the London Olympics in boosting the industry.

Addressing the World Travel Market at Excel (one of the major venues of 2012), she spoke of the Olympics generating “record tourist spend in this country – up 9% for August compared to the same month last year”, adding “the key will be to keep that going” beyond “quite simply the best summer ever for this city and for Britain as a whole”.

Miller later blogged:

The tourism industry had a vital role this summer with the Olympic and Paralympic Games and will continue to do so. Our tourism industry helps us sell Britain, helps contribute to economic growth and helps drive investment. That is why we believe tourism is key to the UK’s growth strategy.

“We already know that the global spotlight of the Olympic and Paralympic Games helped to generate real economic success with record tourist spend of £598 million in August 2012, up nine per cent on 2011.

“But there is no room for complacency. But we are in a global race, and face tough completion from established and emerging markets. We must maintain the momentum of the summer if we are to continue to reap the benefits of the Games’ success.”

All well and good, and with tourism currently Britain’s fifth biggest industry, with the potential for huge growth in the coming decades attracting affluent new visitors from the BRICS countries (by 2030, China is projected to have 1.4 billion middle class consumers), the need to promote the UK as a tourist destination to people from Beijing to Rio is clear – but, as with growth, the strategy needs more than a one-off Olympic boost, and anyway, should not the Olympic legacy be about so much more than just tourism?

We have yet to see Miller espouse a vision of the sporting legacy of the Games, ditto education secretary Michael Gove or either of the two Tory health secretaries in this parliament, Andrew Lansley and Miller’s predecessor at DCMS Jeremy Hunt; there’s bluster aplenty from the prime minister and Mayor of London, but no one willing to truly commit resources to an on-field, youth-driven legacy of mass participation, health and excellence.

As Left Foot Forward has reported, just last month, the Department for Education scrapped protections for school playing fields; school sports budgets continue to be slashed; Tory councils are closing down ever more swimming pools… without an urgent rethink, it is the aforementioned catalogue of failure that risks becoming the Tory Olympic legacy, no matter how great the boost to the economy from tourism – though if just some of that money could be ploughed back into sport it will at least be a start.

“Inspire a generation… of tourists” isn’t quite what LOCOG had in mind.

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