David Cameron, the British Prime Minister was at the Serpentine Gallery (yes it is supposed to look like this) London last week to tell the tourist industry that they must get their act together. He is both right and wrong to do this.
He was right because tourism is the second largest earner of forigen currency for the UK but he is wrong because the underperfomance of the UK is due to government policy. China is clarly the future here but Britain falls at number 22 in the league of Chinese tourist destinations while Germany is number 10. This is because Chinese nationals require visas to come here but not to Germany. This is because we have a colossal assilum problem in the UK. All any of these tourists need to do is claim assilum and they will be fed and housed to a standard that few of them could aford at home. We end up being inhospitable to tourists because we are far too hospitable to globetrotting freeloaders.
Germany (and France) also market the countryside far better than does the UK. There are literaly hundreds of cities and towns with their own charm. All of them are worth visiting.
England invented mass leisure and we speak the most common international language. One side effect of early industrialation was that we have enjoyed around 200 years of heavy capital investment in a variety of UK distinations that are currently being under used.
This period generated the supremely mad archetecture that can now be found in almost any seaside town. The photograph from the glass floored ballroom in the Blackpool Tower where you can literally dance on air. Blackpool also has no less than four piers which is odd as they serve no objective purpose whatever.
Most people believe that cheap air flight killed these places. In fact they have their own appeal that is not dependent upon the weather.
I will take resorts that I know fairly well, Southend on Sea and Brighton. It is possible to reach either resort from London in about an hour and a half. Both resorts have pebbly beaches and similar climates and yet only Brighton may be found in the guide books. This is because Brighton has reinvented itself in a way that Southend has not.
Brighton has the delightfully mad pavilion where the Prince Regent hid from his crazy wife. Note how it combines Hindu and Muslim elements.
The stained glass windows appear to form eyes. The whole place is an acid trip.
Brighton quite deliberately set out to ensure that it attracts wealthy people. It markets itself as gay friendly because gay people have little to spend money on but themselves. Note the rainbow flags. It also hosts conferences to keep the hotels full in winter and is home to several language schools.
Even the government promotes Brighton as some sort of sex haven using the slgan 'free love' on the Visit Brighton website to promote the idea that casual sex in Brighton somehow does not count. There is a nudest beach and nude cycling too. This seems a shrewed marketing move as English girls are notorious for sleeping with multiple partners abroad. Why not do it in Brighton too?
For some reason machine guns and anti tank weapons are sold openly without anyone thinking this is odd.
SOUTHEND ON SEA
Southend on sea's main claims to fame are the bizzare 1.34 mile long pier- the longest in the world and the excelent adventure island.
The main problem is that where Brighton has sought out people with money, Southend has done the opposite. The town now specialises in assilum seekers who do not work and who sometimes become involved in crime. Some of the money they receive may even go towards terrorism.
The lesson seems to be clear. Get rid of what you do not want to make way for what you do. There is a degree of defeatism in certain seaside towns and yet Brighton goes from strength to strength. Towns such as Southend do not mention their greatest strengths which include friendly crabs and large fish that swim with you like dolphins (maybe this would freak people out?). The key to regeneration is a strong identity and the absence of drunken and violent elements. Southend needs to get rid of its asylum seekers.