Garden Bridge set to boost London tourist numbers

The number of tourists visiting London each year could be boosted by nearly eight million as a direct result of the planned Garden Bridge, which will stretch across the River Thames.

Graham King, Westminster Council’s head of strategic planning, says footfall across the new 1,214ft pedestrian bridge will be similar to that seen on the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges. It will cost £150 million to make and is designed by the same person who created the cauldron at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Thomas Heatherwick, reports standard.co.uk.

The Garden Bridge Trust will care for the structure, and Mr Heatherwick says this means it will be easier to police. Moreover, the bridge will be made of several paths and feature trees and shrubbery. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has announced that cyclists will be banned from using the bridge, as the sheer number of pedestrians expected on it means there won’t be enough room, reports itv.com.

Some 94 per cent of people who live outside the capital approve of the new bridge and 88 per cent of residents are happy for it to go ahead too. The new route will provide a link between Westminster and Lambeth and both boroughs are in favour of the project, with the influx of tourists set to boost local economies. 

The project is currently under consideration by the councils involved, so there’s no guarantee it will go ahead just yet.

GTMC supports Heathrow expansion efforts

Heathrow Airport’s decision to join the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) will help its expansion campaign, it has been suggested.

According to Paul Wait, the GTMC’s chief executive, the group plans to continue supporting Heathrow in its growth efforts, with plans for a third runway currently under discussion.

The airport’s director of policy and political relations, Nigel Milton, also feels positive about the decision. He was quoted by incentivetravel.co.uk as saying: “We work with a broad number of TMCs and see a huge volume of business travellers pass through the airport on a daily basis.

“Working with the GTMC and its network, we look forward to continuing to develop our offer and build for future expansion.”

Adding to this, Mr Wait said the move shows just how important the business market is to Heathrow. According to buyingbusinesstravel.com, the results of a survey published recently by the GTMC highlighted just how popular the airport is among corporate travellers.

Doubts have been raised over the potential expansion of Heathrow, with some critics claiming that a brand new airport would be a better solution to the current issue of overcrowded skies. Initial proposals for a new facility in the Thames estuary have also been put forward by architect firm Foster + Partners. 

Ryanair set to offer flexible tickets for business travellers

Budget airline Ryanair has revealed it will offer business travellers special services, such as flexible tickets and free premium allocated seating. 

A fast-track service will also allow business travellers to get through security quicker at certain airports, including Stansted, Manchester and Dublin. Premium allocated seating means passengers can secure the seats they want for no extra charge. Priority boarding will also be on offer, so travellers can decide whether they want to get on the plane first or last, reports businesstraveller.com.

Flexible tickets give people the chance to change their flights if they so wish, for no extra cost. They will also be allowed to get aboard an earlier aircraft if one is available.

Lesley Kane, Ryanair’s head of corporate sales, said the new services were developed in-line with customer feedback.

“Ryanair has the most on-time flights in Europe, with over 90 per cent or more arriving on time,” she explained. “We have the least cancelled flights, and if there is a disruption we are bound by regulation EU261. All passengers are advised of their rights and it is printed on their boarding cards.”

She added that the airline is targeting business travellers as it wants to boost its passenger numbers to 112 million by 2019, reports buyingbusinesstravel.com.

TfL deems Uber app legal following strike

In the aftermath of London’s June 11 taxi driver protest against Uber, Transport for London (TfL) has now deemed the smartphone app to be legal.

Cabbies in the capital believe that Uber, a US technology start-up, acts as an illegal taximeter and undermines their livelihood in the process. But TfL have now ruled that the app is operating lawfully and can continue to do so, reports thedrum.com.

The app, launched in America in 2009, calculates the distance of your desired journey before determining the cost. Although TfL have given it the go-ahead, there’s still one more hurdle for the San Francisco company as the regulator has also asked the High Court for a ruling.

A statement issued by TfL said: “TfL’s view is that smartphones that transmit location information (based on GPS data) between vehicles and operators, have no operational or physical connection with the vehicles, and receive information about fares which are calculated remotely from the vehicles, are not taximeters within the meaning of the legislation.”

Unsurprisingly, Uber welcomed the decision with general manager for Britain and Ireland Jo Bertram saying: “Today is a victory for common sense.” However, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association Steve McNamara remains adamant that “using a meter in a private vehicle is a criminal matter”.

The June 11 strike – which involved more than 5,000 black cab drivers blockading central London – actually led to an 850 per cent increase in Uber sign-ups, reports standard.co.uk.

Gatwick Airport's passenger increase calls for new runway

End-of-financial-year results show that the amount of passengers using Gatwick Airport reached an all-time high this past year, bolstering its push to add a second runway.

Some 35.9 million passengers travelled through the airport between April 2013 and March 2014 – a 4.8 percent growth on the yearly like-for-like, reports crawleynews.co.uk.

More passengers also meant more profit and a greater share of London traffic. Compared to a loss in the 2012 to 2013 financial year, this past year ended with £57.5 million in profit and now calls for a second runway are becoming louder.

Stewart Wingate, CEO of London Gatwick, said: “Gatwick’s record performance and growth to around 36 million passengers this year demonstrates how we are successfully competing in the London market and why we are best-placed to deliver the UK’s next new runway.

“Airlines and passengers are increasingly choosing to fly from Gatwick and this growth is expected to continue,” he added.

In order for the UK to remain economically competitive both Gatwick and Heathrow need new runways, according to Sir Richard Branson. The Virgin Atlantic founder told the Financial Sunday Express: “We urgently need those extra runways at Heathrow and Gatwick or we’ll go backwards.”

Both airports have submitted expansion plans to the Airports Commission, which is expected to reach a decision next year. A £7.8 billion second runway is desired at Gatwick, while Heathrow’s third runway would cost £17 billion, reports travelweekly.co.uk.

Converting a civil partnership to marriage costs nothing

Couples in a civil partnership won’t have to pay anything to become legally married, as long as they convert their union within a certain time period.

The conversion needs to take place within the 12 months after December 10 in order for couples to avoid the £45 fee. Moreover, it only applies to civil partnership before March 29 this year, as that’s the date when same-sex couples were finally allowed to get married in England and Wales, reports bbc.co.uk.

Culture secretary and minister for equalities Sajid Javid made the announcement, but the policy was jointly formed by the Home Office and the department for culture, media and sport.

Speaking to pinknews.co.uk, Mike Freer, Conservative Party vice chairman for equalities, says the fact the government is allowing people to convert their civil partnerships for free reflects its commitment to equality.

“Whilst the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was a major milestone, today’s announcement makes marriage a reality for the many people already in civil partnerships,” he explains. “I have lobbied the chancellor and culture secretary for some time on this issue and I am delighted that they have acted.”

In order to convert their union, couples can visit a registry office after December 10 to do so. Of course, there’s nothing stopping them having a second wedding too.

London rail commuters will get free, fast Wi-Fi

People travelling to London on certain routes will soon get access to free and fast Wi-Fi, ministers have announced.

The new service is being implemented as a result of National Rail being fined £53.1 million by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). National Rail failed to meet several key punctuality targets over a period of five years on its long-distance services. In the past, critics have stated that it is pointless fining National Rail, as it simply means that less money is spent on improving the service. To tackle this problem, the fine is being spent on a brand new Wi-Fi service, reports bbc.co.uk.

More than £90 million in total will be spent on the free Wi-Fi, so the fine will only fund part of the project. Commuters who travel to London from Portsmouth, Brighton, Kent and Bedford will be able to use the service, reports buyingbusinesstravel.com. Certain services into Manchester will also have Wi-Fi access.

The Wi-Fi will be ten times faster than the services currently in place. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin comments that passengers believe that a better service should be available, which is exactly what this scheme will provide.

“We all know how frustrating it can be to have our phone calls and internet use constantly disrupted by poor signal while travelling on trains,” he explains. “At the moment it happens too often.”

Report damns Thames Estuary airport plans

Plans for the Thames Estuary ‘Boris Island’ airport have been dealt a blow after a major report claimed it would be an environmental “disaster”.

London’s airports are vying for expansion approval, as London city planners look at ways of handling the huge population expansions forecast over the coming decades. Gatwick and Heathrow have each applied for additional runways, whilst more ambitious plans would see a huge new airport opened in the Thames Estuary that could effectively see the other London airports closed for good.

Now it seems the latter may not be as viable an option as once thought, with a report into the airport highlighting “large-scale adverse affects” on wildlife and the environment. Not only that, such issues could prove expensive, with moves to alleviate any environmental damage sending the eventual cost to £2 billion – four times that of the original proposal put forward by Mayor Boris Johnson.

The report added that, even if these costs were met, they still wouldn’t be quite enough to mitigate the environmental damage, which might never be undone, travelweekly.co.uk notes.

This damning verdict could prove decisive as wider sentiment towards the airport has already begun to turn. As such, expansion to Heathrow or Gatwick could end up being a much likelier outcome for at least the next few decades.

Standard.co.uk has the report saying: “A large area of compensation habitat creation would be required and this would be on a scale unprecedented for any single development in Europe.

“While it is technically possible to create large-scale habitats, there is, however, a high level of uncertainty in achieving this.”

A record 18.7 million tourists to visit London in 2014

Some 18.7 million tourists are forecast to visit London this year, according to a new international study by Mastercard.

This means that more than the entire population of Holland will be heading to the capital in 2014. It also puts London ahead of its nearest rival, Bangkok, which will lag behind by just 300,000 visitors this year, reports breakingtravelnews.com. Paris and Singapore rank third and fourth place respectively.

For the third time in four years, London is the most popular destination in the world for international travellers. This is a comeback from 2013, where it lost the crown to Bangkok. An eight per cent surge in visitors has pushed London back to number one and the capital is estimated to generate £11 billion from tourists this year, reports standard.co.uk.

Marion King, UK head of payments group Mastercard, says that special events, such as the Tour de France, have made London an attractive destination this year. She adds that people more likely chose to visit London over Bangkok because of its stability, whereas there has been a lot of unrest recently in Thailand.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, comments: “With nearly nineteen million visitors this year London is the world’s favourite place to visit. Our city perfectly combines history, heritage, arts and culture, not to mention vast amounts of green space and major events that are the envy of the planet.”

Events management industry to have its own Institute

A new organisation has been created to introduce professional standards and foster greater personalisation in the events industry.

The Institute of Events Management (IEM) is an ambitious new scheme that’s been hailed as a way of ‘revolutionising’ business events. Though initially only being launched in the UK, its aim is to help develop and implement professional standards that can be implemented by event hosts and organisers across the world.

Executive board chair of the IEM, Susan Spibey, made the big unveiling at The Meetings Show, which has been running in London from July 8. She announced that a full launch would take place later this year, which will draw from responses gleaned at her ‘Route to Professional Recognition for Event Managers’ seminars, which were scheduled for every day of The Meetings Show.

Spibey added that events organisers from across the UK have already given their support to the IEM. It has also featured in the Britain for Events manifesto and attained support from numerous other professional bodies, conference-news.co.uk notes. These include the Chartered Management Institute, the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Speaking to meetpie.com of her plans, Spibey explained: “Our manifesto embraces new dimensions in professional recognition with the IEM Quality Mark featuring qualifications to demonstrate and benchmark competence thanks to accreditation, experiential and front-line learning helping employers and their staff alike.

“Lifelong learning opportunities will prove key to assisting personal development and enhanced career pathways. We intend to open up an ambitious spectrum of information resources, signposting and knowledge sharing. Longer-term aims include establishing a portfolio of awards and bursaries, creating a publications library, setting up recruitment and support services, plus research fellowships.”