London’s tour industry seems to play an important part in the city’s economy, aiming to provide a safe and accessible way of seeing the city’s most prominent tourist sites, including theatres, museums, and other attractions. There is a variety of city tours to choose from, including bus, bike, boat, walking tours, etc. While some tour operators present basic, cost-efficient options, others include in their offer bespoke private tours and charter services, with lunch and entrance to different attractions such as the London Eye and The Shard.
A number of bus tour companies use double-decker buses, some with panoramic open top, and provide passengers with prerecorded or live on-board commentary. The so-called “Hop on hop off” buses offer tourists the option to board and leave the company buses within their ticket’s time limit at special bus stops on a circular route. Generally, bus tour tickets may be purchased at tourist attractions or online via the Internet for one or two-day rides.
London tourists may choose from a mosaic of tour options including the Panoramic Tour of London, Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour, London by night open top bus tour, Big bus tours, The Original Sightseeing Tour, The Total London Experience, The Ghost Bus Tours, Half day tour of London with St. Paul’s Cathedral and Guard Change, The London Time Tour Bus, Spirit of London tour, The Beatles London Walking Tour, etc. The travel website TripAdvisor provides ratings and details of these tours which may help potential passengers choose the most suitable option.
According to Transport for London authority there seem to be significant seasonal variations within the sightseeing tour sector with higher demand during the spring and summer months, potentially driven by leisure, school and holiday trips. While an increased demand may be beneficial for tour businesses, it also makes it essential for coaches to have suitable and adequate locations to pick up and set down passengers, as well as parking facilities where drivers may take legally required breaks. This is quintessential within Central London, where most touring activities take place.
Therefore, efficient use of the existing facilities may be vital to ensure an adequate response from the industry to a potential increase in number of passengers and provide an improved experience for tourists. Keeping up with the times, some of the leading tour operators seem to be investing in state-of-art vehicles with fast internet access, refreshment facilities, wheelchair access, video systems and comfortable seating.
Certain tourist attractions, such as the London Eye and the London Aquarium may be an example of efficient tourist coach operations. The London borough of Lambeth has contracted Merlin Entertainment Group to marshal eight coach bays at the attraction. The bays are free to use, based on a permit the drivers may obtain from Merlin. This example highlights an ingenious way of maximizing the use of kerbside space to improve parking efficiency. The O2 Arena provides free parking options for group visits to on-site attractions. For example, free coach parking is offered if groups pre-book 20 or more people on the Thames Clippers Park and Glide option, providing drivers with safe and secure parking as well as waiting facilities.
While demand for coach travel may increase over the coming years, an action plan based on input from boroughs as well as coach and tourism representatives may need to address ways to provide better access for tourist coaches, such as planning for new developments, picking up and setting down facilities, managing parking, as well as improving efficiency of tourist coaches, and better partnership between the industry stakeholders.
How may London tour operators enhance the tourists’ experience?