Greenwich – managing World Heritage status effectively


The Royal Borough of Greenwich has a world heritage status that attracts a mature visitor market. It has established a nationally-recognised mechanism for managing, developing and promoting its World Heritage offer.

Key lessons for other councils

  • Major events provide a huge opportunity for change and improvement: capitalising on potential legacy benefits cannot be underestimated.
  • The established, traditional core market should not be overlooked in the rush to satisfy new customers.
  • Empowered working partnerships that set the agenda and deliver are more relevant to the visitor economy than some other corporate activities.
  • There needs to be a ‘golden thread' of culture and tourism clearly running through all the core corporate documents, action plans and strategies.
  • Even with a hugely significant event unfolding, the view that ‘tourism just happens, doesn't it?' can still be heard.
  • Regular monitoring using performance indicators is essential to measure service performance and ensure effective decision making.
  • Recognition that tourism and culture are essential components of corporate management.
  • Capitalise on opportunities for making significant improvements to a destination that benefit both visitors and residents.


The Royal Borough of Greenwich is based on the south bank of the river Thames and 240,000 people live in the borough. The council was rated as a three star authority, ‘improving well' in the last comprehensive performance assessment (CPA).

Greenwich became a Royal Borough in 2012. It is has a rich heritage, a unique place in maritime history with worldwide awareness of the Greenwich meridian. It is also now home to the O2 arena and will host some of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics events. It is the only London borough with a dedicated tourism service.

The borough attracts more than nine million day visitors with a further 600,000 staying overnight. The visitor economy is estimated to be worth £532 million and generates around 8,400 jobs – Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor (STEAM) figures for 2006.

In general there has been a steady increase in visitor numbers over the last few years. The ratio between staying and day visitors remains virtually unchanged.

Who is involved?

Greenwich secured Beacon status (2004/05 ‘Promoting sustainable tourism') for demonstrating effective, voluntary, public-private partnership in managing and promoting the World Heritage site. The Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site Steering Group was established by Greenwich Council. It includes all main public and private sector players and is responsible for the joint delivery of the Heritage Site Management Plan.

Its marketing sub-group is responsible for developing and implementing the annual marketing plan. The plan is approved at the beginning of each financial year by the main steering group with partner contributions secured in advance.

All the main organisations are included on the steering group including:

  • the National Maritime Museum
  • O2
  • the Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College
  • Greenwich Hospital Estates
  • Docklands Light Railway
  • Thames Clippers
  • Greenwich Market
  • English Heritage.

Most of the accommodation available in the borough is within the boundary of the World Heritage site and is therefore linked to the partnership.

All of the activities are coordinated by the council. Links between other council departments are more informal. However, the profile of tourism and a clear corporate focus on delivery makes collaboration and mutual support easier.

The problems and how we tackled them

Tourism is part of the Culture and Community Services Directorate within the council. This also includes the Olympics, museums, sports development, parks, open spaces, libraries and community support.

In 2008, it was moved into that directorate to be more closely associated with the Olympics and sport. There is a portfolio-holder for Culture and the Olympics.

The role of tourism and the visitor economy is clearly recognised corporately at the strategic level. The Greenwich Strategy includes a specific theme covering ‘The Place to Visit, a Place of Culture'. There is also a separate theme for the Olympics.

The Greenwich Partnership (local strategic partnership) has four sub-groups and culture sits as a cross-cutting theme spanning all four. There is currently no specific culture sub-group but there is an ambition to secure one.

Within the local development framework (LDF) there is also a strong section on tourism with a particular focus around the World Heritage Site.

In addition to the targets and actions defined in the corporate plans, four key areas have been identified. These are the most likely to contribute to the continuing growth of the visitor economy. They are:

  • building on the distinctiveness of the existing product, particularly the World Heritage Site and the O2.
  • enhancing the overall quality of the visitor experience.
  • promoting Greenwich as a world class visitor destination.
  • seizing the legacy opportunities presented by the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At present the main driver for action is the Olympics. This is focusing the minds of public and private sectors on making sure that the venues and support infrastructure are in place on time. There should also be lasting benefit for the community.

A significant level of investment is taking place within the borough. There is a need to capitalise on that as it enables the council to broaden the area's offer.

Olympic-related activity has achieved a greater profile for tourism. However, the main focus for the future is the legacy for the local community. There is a realisation that tourism could have a significant beneficial economic impact. Because of that, tourism is identified as one of the four key legacy outcomes.

Greenwich leads the visitor economy activity on behalf of the five Olympic host boroughs. It also works in partnership with the London Development Agency.

The council has also been working through the Passion for Excellence, the IDeA (now LGA) Culture and Sport Improvement toolkit. Greenwich will be preparing an action plan to address the issues raised in the IDeA report.

‘Destination Greenwich' is the new brand identity for the borough, supported by a dedicated visitors' website.

Performance of the destination and the relevant council services is regularly monitored through a suite of performance indicators (PIs).

Outcomes and impact

2012 has been a tremendous catalyst for action. It is increasing the pressure to find solutions and providing significant investment into the area's infrastructure.

The role of tourism and the relevance of the visitor economy was clearly recognised previously. 2012 has helped to reinforce and extend that importance.

The number of visitors to Greenwich has increased dramatically following the opening of the O2 arena in 2007. Fourteen million attended the arena in 2008 alone. This will have a significant impact on day visitor numbers and will lead to an increase in overnight stays.

Traditionally the market for the borough has been the over-55s attracted by the heritage experience. The effect of O2 is likely to reduce the average age of visitors.

Around 50 per cent of visitors currently come from the domestic market. Overseas visitors come mainly from North America, South Korea and Japan and from across Europe.

Before the opening of the O2 the main focus for visitors was the National Maritime Museum and the Greenwich World Heritage Site.

Visits to the National Maritime Museum and the Greenwich Observatory have increased recently by 20 per cent.


Neil McCollum


2 June 2015

Useful links

A passion for excellence (PDF, 40 pages, 1.04MB large file)

A passion for excellence – one year on (PDF, 20 pages, 1.4MB large file)

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