The Olympic Games will give UK tourism a “big uplift” in the years to come, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Mr Hunt was setting out the government’s strategy to “turbocharge” tourism in the wake of London 2012.
This could see an extra 4.5 million visitors to the UK in the coming years, leading to £2bn in extra spending and 60,000 additional jobs.
Ministers are also looking at simplifying visa applications for non-EU nationals, he said.
There have been concerns that visitors have avoided London during the Games.
But Mr Hunt, who has responsibility for tourism as well as sport, told 5 liveBreakfast the impact of the Olympics on tourism needed to be considered over the long term, not just during the two weeks when the Games were taking place.
‘Flying the flag’
“The Olympic effect is massively disruptive and you do get, in any city that hosts an Olympics, tour groups saying we’re going to avoid that city during this summer because it’s just going to be too busy,” he said.
“But what you also get is a massive long-term boost to your reputation. You get a big, big uplift, but you’ve got to capitalise on it.”
Mr Hunt said the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies had done a “massive amount” to make London “one of the most desirable places to visit on the planet”.
“I think what we’ve got to do is make sure we translate that interest in London and Britain into an actual concrete desire to come here,” he added.
Speaking to tourism industry leaders, Mr Hunt set out how the government plans to make the most of the global attention the UK has received during London 2012.
The strategy will focus on attracting visitors from China, where the government thinks there is potential to triple the number of tourists – generating more than £500m in extra spending and creating more than 14,000 jobs.
The culture secretary said he also wanted to boost domestic tourism and “fly the flag” for the “fantastic holidays” available in the UK.
The government will invest £2m in marketing to encourage Britons to take a UK-based break – a figure that will be matched by the industry.
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are all currently on holiday abroad although the prime minister is to take a short holiday in the UK later this month.
Mr Hunt suggested the UK’s tourism industry was being put at a “disadvantage” because it is not part of the Schengen visa system – which allows travellers to use the same visa for multiple European countries.
He admitted that tour groups were put off including the UK in their itineraries but insisted the UK visa application process was becoming quicker.
He added: “We want to look at whether there’s more we can do… to make the process work in parallel with applying for a Schengen visa.”
Other ways for boosting tourism to the UK could include ensuring the “friendliness” of the 70,000 Olympic volunteers was sustained, Mr Hunt said.
“When we are promoting ourselves abroad we can do something we never thought we could do before – we can say ‘come to Britain because it’s friendly’.”
“Before, we thought that was perhaps one of our weaker areas. It isn’t, and we’ve proved that to the world.”