I recently authored a report entitled “Unknown London” that put the case that too much publicity was directed at central London tourist attractions at the expense of suburban museums and places of interest.
Currently, central and inner London take around £7.7bn whilst outer London attracts £4bn of tourism spend. That is a 65% vs 35% split between inner and outer London. If you go to the Visit London (the body tasked with promoting the tourism sector) website there are no outer London attractions in the top 20 advertised.
This is such a shame, as there are some fantastic lesser known sites such as the Horniman Museum that have exhibitions of international interest, and offer fantastic events for families.
If Visit London re-focused its efforts to balance the split of tourism flow between the relatively small area of central London and suburban attractions, it would self-evidently have a beneficial knock on effect to local economies.
But how to do this? My own research shows that there is no need to throw large amounts of money at the problem.
For a modest investment of between £100k-£300k, the potential to zap incentives to tourist smartphones, to encourage them to visit outer London gems like Eltham Palace, Horniman Museum or the Barnes Wetland Centre is immense.
I identify a number of possible technologies that could be used for such an enterprise. One such is NFC (Near Field Communication) involves two devices interacting wirelessly at a very short range, usually 4 to 10 centimetres. It is used in the context of mobile payments, including Oyster Cards.
NFC on a mobile phone does have a great deal of potential and is very user-friendly. A more widely available technology is QR codes. The QR code is like a barcode. The user scans the code, the smartphone interprets the barcode, and a related website or application opens.
In addition I suggested the use of Beacons. They use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and its advantage is that you do not need a reader or have to tap any pairing devices. The beacons are small wireless, bluetooth enabled sensors that allow mobile apps to recognise when a smartphone is nearby.
These beacons can allow companies to send special promotions, coupons, recommendations to people as they pass through a given area. A number of companies have been using the iBeacon technology, such as Waitrose and House of Fraser as well as Regent Street.
These innovative technologies are not overly expensive. The cost could easily be covered by commercial sponsorship. If this resulted in a 10% increase in visits, outer London could benefit to the tune of £400million.