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Citizens Forum March 19 2024

The second City of London Citizens Forum was held at The City Wall at Vine Street. There was a presentation from Paul Martin, who is carrying out an independent review of the City Corporation's Destination City programme. Blog post here.

As I've explained in the blog post, I used the artificial intelligence transcription app Notta to generate a report of Paul's presentation, which was then edited. The summary and Q and A were generated automatically, and lightly edited.


The meeting was an interview with Paul Martin, an independent consultant hired to review the City of London's Destination City program. The program was launched to help the Square Mile recover economically from the pandemic. Key topics discussed included: an overview of Destination City and its focus on events and promotion so far; the need to define a strategy and priorities going forward; and potential areas of focus like culture/heritage, public realm improvements, marketing, addressing the change in visitor patterns during the week. Input was sought from residents on what they think should be the focus. .


Q: What is Destination City?
A: A program launched by the City of London Corporation about 2 years ago to aid economic recovery, footfall and spend from the pandemic, with a focus so far on major events and a promotional website.

Q: What were the major events and website?
A: The Golden Key event in early 2022 and Bartholomew Fair in September 2023 were major Destination City events. The website is site is

Q: Why is a review being done of Destination City?
A: The business case has changed. Things have moved on significantly since 2022. We need to get input on what the future strategy and priorities should be.

Q: What are some potential priorities discussed?
A: Focusing on cultural/heritage assets, improving public spaces, marketing what exists, working out how we can address void units, addressing the change in visitor patterns during the 7 day week, assessing the partnership working arrangements.

Action Items

  • Submit review report to committees on 18 March
  • Reflect resident input in review report
  • Continue conversation with residents at reception upstairs


You can hear from my accent, I'm a Londoner. I was born in the East End of London. I'm ashamed to say this is the first time I've ever been in this building. And in a way, you know, that's kind of the sense of some of what I want to talk about, which is how we can in the City of London, how we can extend the knowledge and awareness of the fantastic, incomparable assets of the City of London to people who live and work here and to people from further afield.

But let me say a few words, first of all, about what Destination City is, because probably some of you have, I know some people in this room and I've met and talked to some people in this room, but others not, so I think I should just make sure that we've all got kind of a reasonable base of knowledge as to what we're talking about when we talk about Destination City.

So I'll say something about what Destination City is, how it was first launched, and then I'll go on to say something about why the Corporation has decided to hold an independent review of Destination City. I'm not a member of staff of the Corporation, I've been hired to do a specific piece of work, this review, and when I've done that then and I will hand this over to the Corporation . I'll pass it over to the decision makers in the City of London at committee meetings on 18th March. I’ll keep my remarks fairly brief as I'm conscious that a lot of people are standing and maybe you'd rather continue the conversation upstairs afterwards in a more relaxed seating area.

For now, I'll outline some of the choices that the Corporation can make, some of the things I'll be thinking about in the work that I'm doing. And the reason that you're here this evening, and we're really grateful to you for coming out on a Monday evening in February to listen to this, the reason that we're so keen to have this conversation is because the City Corporation wants to hear the views of as many residents as possible about what your experience has been of Destination City, but most importantly, where you think it should head in the future.

And I want to emphasise that the City of London is really keen to be engaging with residents. And what I hear is that the feeling is that they haven't always got that right, and the City leadership is keen to strengthen and improve dialogue on all things that impact on you, also where you can help improve and guide the City’s work because of your knowledge and experience of living here. So that's the reason that I've been asked to come along here, and hopefully that's a pattern of working, a way of working that will be embraced in the future across all policy agendas. So let’s get started on Destination City.

Destination City was launched about 2 years ago in the context of the recovery from the pandemic. The programme was designed to address the impact that the lockdowns, the various lockdowns, had upon the square mile. These transformed the Square Mile from what it had been up until March 2020, to something very different - it had become, in many ways, a ghost town during the lockdowns. And the Corporation knew that it was going to take an enormous effort. to get that footfall back in Square Mile, to get workers back, and to get the spending and the economic critical mass that the Square Mile is actually based on and thrives on.

So Destination City was the Corporation's flagship program to say that we're back and we want people to come back to the Square Mile. Whether you’re a city worker, Londoner, from elsewhere in the UK or the world – we want you back here in the square mile, in greater numbers than ever.

So that was the ambition. It was a big ambition - to recover from the lockdowns and the pandemic, but not only recover to pole vault to higher levels of economic activity. It’s important to acknowledge that there were many valuable initiatives of a similar kind prior to the pandemic, and so in some ways Destination City was a fresh branding and drive to achieve something the City has been working at for many years. The measurement of the programme’s impact was to be in increasing visitor numbers and spend.

So, what was the result so far? What did the corporation do in Destination City? Well, they created a Destination City team, which is based in the Guildhall. They assigned a budget to Destination City so that things would happen, activities, and a programme could be developed.

And in the last two years, there's been a focus on two main interventions. The first is holding events. And, again, you're most likely familiar with this, Destination City ran in the first instance an event called the Golden Key which was held in 2022. So, I'm guessing that many of you are aware of the Golden Key or maybe you participated in the event. And then, in the following year, in September 2023, Destination City organised a series of events across the square mile called Bartholomew Fair.

Bartholomew Fair was, of course, utilising the historic brand and repurposing it in a different way for events around the square mile. So, that was one set of interventions around major events intended to highlight and profile the square mile as a visitor destination. And the second intervention is a website, which is aimed at visitors in London, nationally, and is actually promoting the square mile as a visitor destination. It’s still quite new so there is an understandable inconsistency in the level of awareness of this website which is distinct from the City Corporation’s main website.

You’ll find the Destination City website address on the postcards you have all been given.. You can see the website address there is, and if you look at it you’ll see that its a website specifically promoting attractions in the square mile. That’s the Destination City activity to date. Going forward, the City Corporation is very thoughtful about how the programme should evolve – what direction should it take next, what should its goals and objectives be in the coming years?

This is what I want to hear from you. I’ve had in excess of 160 meetings with people so far, including in fact quite a number here today, and every one has been helpful in providing reaction and ideas on how we should move forward.

These meetings have been with residents, with elected members, of course, and officials, with business people in the Square Mile, with cultural organisations, importantly, heritage organisations. Almost everybody says that the ambition to get people here, into the square mile and developing and enhancing the economic vitality of the Square Mile is the right one and needs to be built on.

So the ambition is very well supported.. Where people tend to have different views is on the specific interventions and changes that people wish to see. Destination City is a broad and fairly elastic concept, and so we need to be clear on the choices and options that the Corporation has and what would have the biggest impact.

Given finite resources, what should the city of London with limited resources, be focusing on? How important is activity to drive for example people from a business perspective relative to leisure tourism? What’s the role for example of the City’s huge cultural assets, its heritage and arts attractions?

Let’s start there, as one dimension of Destination City - culture and heritage. So we know, and you know better than anyone, that this historic city of London has the most amazing resources and attractions about how London first developed as a city, a depth which is unknown anywhere else.

The city of London is the only global financial centre with a history and a heritage that is reflected in the very place we are standing, on the site of an exposed Roman wall.

From a financial and professional services perspective, the city of London has competitors like Singapore, or Wall Street, or other places, but nowhere has this depth of history, heritage and culture.

And this is just one! There are numerous extraordinary cultural and heritage attractions in the Square Mile. And it’s continuing to grow and even transform, most obviously in the re-location of the London Museum to Smithfield Market which will transform that area into an international visitor destination.

Destination City reports both to the Policy and Resources Committee and also to the Culture, Heritage & Libraries Committee and in fact the deputy chair of that committee is here with us this evening. So that's one area you might want to think about, how can we develop the potential of the City as a cultural and heritage destination?

A second would be what I might term the public realm - the public realm being essentially about the external environment in which we live and work and visit.

It's outside of the buildings, it's the roads and the streets and spaces between buildings, it's the open spaces, the play areas, the areas for congregation. How important is the public realm in Destination City and what should be the priorities to improve the public realm for workers, for residents and for visitors? What could be done about empty shop units? How can we strengthen the pedestrian experience?

A third possible area to explore is marketing and promotion. I hear a lot of the time that people don’t know what’s going on, where the hidden treasures of the City are, it’s often said that the City needs to improve in the telling of its story. How could we do that better?

A fourth possibility might be around a temporal focus on particular days of the week. The data is telling us, when we look at the visitor numbers and the spend, now, in 2024, relative to 2019, the spend in city has substantially recovered.

That's great news. The spend levels are up and indeed, it seems, where we've now exceeded 2019 levels – that’s very important. The visitor numbers however are still not actually back to 2019 levels, so there's less footfall but the people who are here are spending more.

At the same time, the distribution of that footfall has changed remarkably. So footfall is now focussed on Tuesday to Thursday because city workers are generally in the office Tuesday to Thursday and it is much less on Monday and particularly on Fridays.

And Thursday evenings are especially busy in food and beverage industries, it’s kind of the new end of the week for many city workers who work from home on Fridays.

And Friday is much quieter. The weekend is interesting. The weekends now are busier than they were in 2019.

So what can we do about it? You can take different views on this. You could say, well, this is just kind of a new way of working, there’s nothing we can do about it, we should just accept it and live with it.

Alternatively, you could say it is important because the possibility is that businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry will start closing Friday, maybe already happening. Rather like weekends where historically many shops and businesses are closed in the city because there’s no-one around.

The possibility or risk is that businesses start to shut on Fridays as well. I don't think we would want that. I don’t think that would be good for anyone. So we might say – how can we work together to make getting out of your home into the square mile particularly on Fridays is an attractive and exciting thing to do? A really good example and the only example in public policy that I can think of at the moment is the Mayor of London's initiative to introduce an experimental Off Peak Fridays initiative on TfL between March and June.

And I think it's an important initiative in its own right and also because it says to the rest of us, maybe we need to be thinking about priorities in a different way, possibly we should be thinking about how we can stimulate visitors, whether that's workers or the wider public, to get out and about on Fridays.

The final thing I think we need to be thinking about is how the Corporation of London works in partnership with others – you have a very sophisticated and quite complex ecosystem that the corporation here, and if we get the partnership piece right we could achieve so much more.

I’m thinking of cultural and heritage organisations, the Livery companies, the BIDs, businesses themselves, resident organisations – we need to think how we can harness the totality of these enormous and extraordinary community assets to achieve the goals of Destination City.

I'm going to pause in a couple of minutes and see if there's any feedback from what I’ve said so far or questions you would like to ask.

And maybe after initial reactions and questions, we can move upstairs and have some food and wine and continue the conversation up there. As I said, my timetable is a report going to both of the committees that I mentioned, the Policy and Resources Committee, the Cultural and Heritage Committee, on the 18th of March, which is a month today. And so there’s still plenty of time to contribute to this review.

My responsibility, having talked to so many people, is to do my best to reflect what I've learned from everyone in my report. My hope and intention is that you will see the points you’re making to me in the report itself when it is published.

Finally, if you think of something you would like to submit after this meeting, please do email me at Thank you again for giving up your time this evening to help with this work, and for your willingness to play a part in this review.

dc/forum2.txt · Last modified: 2024/05/12 17:32 by davidwilcox