Popping Up All Over The Place

Tourists are welcome here, says Cally Skinner. Though sometimes we love to hate them.

Photo: Mark Ramsey under Creative Commons license
Photo: Mark Ramsey under Creative Commons license

London. The Big Smoke. LDN.

Whatever they’re calling it these days, tourists are consistently flocking here and contributing enormously to London’s economy. The revenue that tourism brings in is for some businesses the only reason they manage to survive, let alone thrive.

The pop-up business format, which East London is particularly known for, appeals to tourists and Londoners alike. However, pop-ups typically draw most of their custom from out of towners; those who do not want to miss out on the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ USP. Pop-ups are just one of the many reasons that tourists congregate out East, and I for one, am thankful for that.

But, not everyone appreciates the rush of tourists on a daily basis.

Everyone knows how it feels to be in a crowd of people, fighting for personal space, with a 4ft backpack two inches away from your face.

You have to fight off that feeling of dread when the DLR goes through City Airport, and you see the crowds of people waiting on the platform the battling to squeeze their way on, suitcases and holdalls in tow.

There are those tourists that stop in groups of three or four, block the whole length of the pavement, and whack out their A1 size map. They stop so abruptly that you barge into the back of them. You frown, huff and navigate your way round, and then it’s you who’s in the wrong in the eyes of all those people coming the other way.

Londoners get a bad rep. We aren’t all as rude and unhelpful as we’re made out. But it is bloody hard to try and decipher the broken English that many tourists speak, to try and direct them to wherever they want to go. It’s normally safest to point them towards Selfridge’s or Buckingham Palace.

Then there’s those international school trips that take over the whole train carriage; they’re easily identifiable by the orange scarves or red t-shirts that they’re all wearing. Loud and excitable. When there’s so many people around you speaking in a different language, you can’t help feeling that you must be the topic of conversation. Obviously you’re not though, right?

Train etiquette is something they should be briefed on as they enter London. No, the tourist’s bag does not need its own seat – it is not tired, it has not been walking all day, or done a full day at work. Please remove said bag in order for me to rest my tired legs.

We complain, but we are just as bad. I imagine our Parisian friends across the pond feel a similar anguish when we turn up and start shouting two inches from their faces; making drastic hand gestures, expecting them to speak and understand English but making little effort to learn French.

And REALLY, where would we be without tourists? Would London be as successful and unique as it is? Like, really?

Who would buy those mugs printed with the London skyline, cardboard cut-out masks of the queen, teddy bears dressed as soldiers and enough fridge magnets to fill an entire kitchen?

East London relies heavily on tourists. The quirky, unique shops and cafes scattered across Shoreditch and Brick Lane, are made for those that travel here for something they cannot find elsewhere.

Tourists are putting these smaller businesses and lesser-known areas on the map. They may travel to visit Oxford Street and Bond Street for a few hours, but in the younger age group they live for the laid-back, East End vibe that Dalston, Haggerston and Shoreditch offer – and these areas are thriving largely because of the tourist pound (or Euro, Yen, or Yuan).

Tourists have helped make the East London pop-up scene the success that it is today. They are renowned for their willingness to travel in order to experience and witness something new and innovative; they actively research and listen for new ventures, and are willing to cross the city to find the tiniest crevices in which ‘cool London’ is contained.

No, it’s not cool to be so keen. But let’s face it, London would be lost without them.