How are you getting on with the Christmas shopping? All finished, wrapped and labelled? Me neither.
Every year in my house sees a brilliant triumph of goodwill and determination over ever-diminishing time available for me and the family to get it all done.
Happily though, my family are by no means alone in this. And you’ll find the proof of this in just about every high street in Britain at the moment, as shops and markets overflow with people, all on pretty much the same mission. And nowhere more so, I suspect, than in London’s Oxford Street where only the most resilient and determined gift-hunters survive at this time of year.
Oxford Street – a dream for Egyptian visitors
So it may surprise you to learn that ‘shopping on London’s Oxford Street’ is the number one dream activity for tourists coming here from Egypt, and in the top three things to do for Brazilians, South Africans and Swedes.
VisitBritain asked tourists from 19 different countries what was the thing they most dreamed of doing while making their visit. They offered 18 possible activities, ranging from fairly obvious things like going on the London Eye or visiting Edinburgh Castle, right through to the sort of things that wouldn’t normally spring to mind as part of our ‘offer’ to visitors. North Americans, for example, favour ‘eating fish and chips at the seaside’ while the Germans and, once again, the Swedes go for ‘dining by the fire in a cosy Welsh pub’.
The Downton effect
Trips to see and enjoy heritage sites are popular with everyone, with the Downton-effect bringing home the bacon – and pulling in the visitors – while, to no one’s great surprise, a visit to Buckingham Palace is the number one top draw for 15 of the 19 countries’ tourists surveyed.
What do we learn from this? Firstly, that VisitBritain are very clever at keeping their eye on trends in what makes this country such a great one to visit and adjusting their marketing accordingly. But more importantly, it’s a vivid demonstration of what we in government always suspected was the case but which hard evidence is sometimes hard to pin down: that Britain has a breadth and depth of things to offer the visitor that is as varied as it is surprising.
And there was further encouraging evidence that we’re getting it right this week with figures showing that October was a record-breaking month for tourism visits and spend in Britain. Holiday visits are, in fact, on track for a record year, marking six consecutive months of record levels. Oxford Street doesn’t look like it’s going to get easier to navigate any time soon.
’14-18 NOW’ – Arts and the First World War
At the end of last week we learned a little more about the cultural programme that will be taking place alongside the nationwide activities to mark the centenary next year of Britain’s entry into the First World War.
The programme, to be called ’14-18 NOW’, is being overseen by two brilliant and highly experienced women from the arts. Vikki Heywood (Chairman) and Jenny Waldman (Director) will be supported by an expert board and will shortly be commissioning leading artists from Britain and around the world to produce work, through an array of different art-forms, to mark the centenary.
The emphasis, as with so much else surrounding the centenary project, will be on youth. The idea is to produce work that they can engage with both as an audience and – rather excitingly – as participants too.
Details are tantalisingly unclear at the moment but partnerships with the very best of our national cultural institutions like Welsh National Opera, Tate Liverpool, the Philharmonia Orchestra, National Theatre Scotland and others are already being talked about.
14-18 NOW will have £10 million of Lottery money from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund to help make this all happen, and will be working closely with – among many others – the BBC Proms and Channel 4 to create something that everyone hopes and expects will live long in people’s memories.
The first events, by the way, will take place from June of next year onwards, leading up to a large scale event, with mass participation, on 4 August when the centenary itself takes place. Further details should become public in February, I hope. I can’t wait.