Inside Track by Mark Stretton
As stories go it’s pretty remarkable. Marc Woods was just 17 when his world was turned upside down. A promising county swimmer, he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his lower leg that resulted in a below-the-knee amputation. The day after his stitches came out he was back in the pool and within a year he was swimming faster with one leg than he had with two. Just 18 months after he finished his chemotherapy treatment he was selected to represent Great Britain. He subsequently competed at European and World Championships, and five Paralympic Games. In his 17 years of competition he won 12 Paralympic medals from five Games, four of those medals being gold. Marc also won a further 21 medals from European and World Championships. Since retiring from international swimming, Woods has completed the Inca Trail, climbed several mountains and will next year embark on an expedition to ski to the South Pole as part of an “Inspire 2012” team. He told his story last week at the unveiling of World Host, a training initiative spearheaded by People 1st – the sector skills council for hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism in the UK – designed to train 200,000 hospitality and tourism staff ahead of the London 2012 Games. Woods’s tale is more than an adequate hook for this morning’s wider piece about the Olympics – the biggest show on earth that will visit this country in just under two years’ time. As Ufi Ibrahim writes in the latest issue of M&C Report, doubts expressed over the value of the Games are mystifying. They will serve to throw a spotlight on the UK to rest of the world and introduce new visitors to the very best that Britain has to offer. British catering companies and restaurants will serve 18 million meals to athletes and visitors during the event, and British hospitality will be a key “touchpoint” for this global event, helping to shape the experience of the millions of people that will descend on London and other major sporting hubs around the country. It is thought that London 2012 will be worth £2bn to the British economy. The naysayers point to the mixed fortunes of other host cities in the wake of the Games, but Barcelona is now one of Europe’s greatest tourism success stories while the Sydney Games is thought to have boosted the Australian economy by $3.3bn (£2.06bn). Tourism is now one of the five "pillars" of China’s economy, and China is already the second biggest tourist destination in the world, after the USA. London is already one of the most visited cities in the world. It is extraordinarily strong economically and has proved remarkably resilient during the recession, with hotel occupancy barely falling below 80% during 2008-09. Occupancy in the peak summer months of 2010 reached 90% and beyond. In reality, during an unprecedented financial crisis, one of the financial centres of the world has barely missed a beat when it comes to visitors. One of the thrusts of the World Host launch was that in order to maximise the opportunity, British hospitality has to raise its game when it comes to service standards and “warmth of welcome”. The UK is ranked 14th in the international customer service rankings and 13th for its perceived “welcome” by the annual Nation Brand Index Survey, a performance that Miles Templeman, the head of the Institute of Directors, described as “frankly pathetic”. To qualify Templeman’s comments, the Shepherd Neame chairman and former Whitbread executive said that while great strides had been made in customer service there was still much work to be done, and London 2012 should serve as the catalyst for further improvement. There is a huge opportunity for Britain – and British hospitality – to show that it can "do” service and welcome and warmth. Some of the sector’s leading companies are already grasping the opportunities afforded by the Olympics. It is a huge piece for McDonald’s; as well as being a Games partner, the company is helping to train 70,000 volunteers, reinforcing its position as one of the best developers of people in the country; Novus Leisure is taking its philosophy of pre-booking to the next level, selling its selection of bars and clubs to country delegations and international corporations a night at a time; Malmaison is also targeting delegations, selling hotel rooms for training camps, and also targeting the football competition, with its hotels in Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle. For businesses with venues in the right areas, the Games could serve as five or six Christmas weeks rolled up together – a huge boon. We believe that London 2012 is everything it’s cracked up to be. There are huge challenges but also huge opportunities, and we will be doing our best to throw a spotlight on all the activities and initiatives that the sector’s leading companies are weaving into their strategies, in order to maximise this one-in-a-lifetime event. You can read more about Marc Woods’s story at