Laura Citron, CEO, London & Partners – “Our work has brought thousands of new businesses into London”

27 Jun 2023

London & Partners is the business growth and destination agency for London. We are a social enterprise, combining purpose with commercial rigour. ​We are funded by grants, partners and our portfolio of venture businesses.  ​Our mission is to create economic growth that is resilient, sustainable and inclusive.

It has led international tourism marketing for London for decades, running the VisitLondon channels and marketing campaigns globally. Aligned with this is our critically important role in attracting inward investment, which has accelerated since the pandemic.

Our work has brought thousands of new businesses into London. We focus on scale-ups in high growth sectors – fintech, software, creative industries, sustainability and life sciences.

Our international teams scout the ‘next big thing’ from Bangalore to Silicon Valley. We work with tech founders to convince them to expand their businesses to London and help them make a success of it.

Over the last year, we’ve brought in 120 new investments, including a leading European fintech and a top Indian VfX company.

The property industry has a huge role to play in all of this. It creates the places and spaces for visitors and businesses to visit and locate here. The London skyline is a very visible product of the industry’s influence, with its vision and investment helping to jobs and generate economic growth.

Covid conversations

It was the height of the pandemic that I had my first introduction to the work of the London Property Alliance as along with other concerned partners, we sat socially-distanced together looking at forecasts of 30%+ vacancies across the West End and wider Central Activities Zone We didn’t know when it would end and whether people would return.

That conversation really kicked off my working relationship with the real estate sector in London.

I had joined London & Partners a few years previously, shortly after the Brexit referendum. My academic background was in economics, but I’d most recently been running a global business for WPP, the world’s largest marketing company.

The exam question that day was – what can London & Partners do to help? Could we apply our expertise to bring occupiers and visitors back?

But with the borders effectively closed, we needed to pivot to the only visitors we could get – Londoners and UK domestic holidaymakers. The Mayor funded a major domestic tourism campaign: Let’s Do London and we worked with our long-term partners at the City of London Corporation, along with major owners, developers and the BIDs.

Then last year, we ran the biggest tourism campaign London has ever seen. Let’s Do London went global. I will never forget standing on Times Square in New York with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the cast of SIX! The Musical at the launch event.

And it worked. The campaign brought in 585,000 additional visitors with a 28:1 return on investment.

The most important legacy of Let’s Do London is the partnership. The tourism sector in London has historically been fragmented. For the first time, we were united by a single purpose.This same group – with many A WPA and CPA members at its heart – together created London’s Tourism Vision 2030. This sets out our ‘north star’ for the next decade: making London the best possible visitor destination.

We will need to work closely with the real estate industry to deliver the vision as what makes a brilliant visitor experience is in your hands: from placemaking and curation, to accessibility and water fountains.

London remains the prestige location in Europe. Brands still believe that if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere. The scale of the market, and global audience, make it the perfect international launch pad. Our job is to make it easy for them.

At L&P we have also worked with the some of the biggest names in property to leverage our inward investment expertise to help attract new retail, hospitality and experiences to London, and I am incredibly grateful to the consortium of property owners and BIDs who were hugely patient and generous with their time, educating me and my team on our occupier programme which ran during some of the darkest days of the pandemic.

Everything London & Partners does, we do with others. As an industry, you have taken a risk on us and on each other to act together for the common good. This is civic leadership at its best. This sector is so fundamental to shaping London. I love the long-term thinking and impact, and the way property people think about the city’s future.

That future is looking good. As you may have seen from last week’s Evening Standard front page, London is roaring back, with TfL reporting passenger numbers at 88% of pre pandemic levels.

Opportunity London

Through the partnerships we have forged and expertise garnered, we now have a golden opportunity to  leverage even greater capital investment into London for regeneration, affordable housing and green infrastructure. It is supported by the Mayor of London, London Councils and City of London Corporation – the first time in decades that we’ve had cross-party political consensus on capital investment.

Private sector partners are key to its success. We have a fantastic and growing group of partners

and are now speaking with one voice as a city to our most important, long-term investors. Earlier this year I went to Tokyo and Seoul where I saw GPIF, Mitsui Fudosan, Mitsubishi and KIC amongst others. At MIPIM and UKREIIF, we had a coherent London presence and programme.

This week I’m in New York with a number of CPA and WPA board member companies,alongside representatives from the City Corporation, GLA, London Councils, NLA and BIDs to bang the drum for London with our strategic investors in North America, as well as build on our existing alliances and shared learnings.

As I think back to that initial meeting, at the height of the pandemic, with London Property Alliance Chief Executive Charles Begley and other partners from NLA, NWEC and Holba, I am struck by the importance of civic leadership, which I believe this sector does exceptionally well.

I am hugely grateful to the property sector for that; to those who fund us, who have given me wise advice and answered my many, many questions; to those who have encouraged others behind the scenes to get stuck in.

We all know the challenges: the enduring legacy of Brexit and covid, large-scale retrofit and decarbonisation, affordable housing, planning complexity, construction inflation and more.

Yet I’m hugely optimistic about London. Why? Because our investors believe in the long-term growth of this city. Because entrepreneurs want to bring their businesses here – at London Tech Week (which London & Partners created) we had record numbers of international delegates. Because the city is buzzing with visitors from all over the world.

But probably most importantly, because I believe in our civic leadership and our ability to do brilliant, bold things. The Elizabeth Line is a feat of exceptional collective imagination, leadership and determination.

I’m looking forward to working in partnership with London’s property industry as we continue to create the future of this vibrant, dynamic city together.

Read more from our London Leaders series here.