Coming to London During the Olympics

By | Category: Travel rumblings

The government, the Olympic authorities, many consultants and academics say that the Olympics will be a terrific opportunity for London and the UK to showcase its tourism appeal. Ordinary mortals like you and I wonder what to do. Should we avoid London during the games and a week or two either side when hotel rates will be expensive, transport could be crowded and the streets will be clogged. Or should those sporty types amongst us say that this is a once in a lifetime event (almost since the last London games was in 1948) and attend we must.
Earlier this week the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) held a meeting at which it drew attention to some of the problems that the games could bring as opposed to the benefits. The cynical amongst you will be saying that it was inevitable that someone would take a negative view. The difference this time is that ETOA have completed a deal of research about the effect of the games at Sydney, Athens and Beijing. None of those games delivered the volume of visitors that were forecast. Hotel rates shot up and some fancy footwork was required in explaining why hotel rates suddenly dropped in order to encourage people to stay. And London has another problem. In August, when the games are scheduled, London accommodation is pretty much full due to the normal summer appeal of London as a tourist destination. In terms of the number of tourists the games might bring, usual tourism will bring more. Or will it? ETOA wonders whether our bread-and-butter tourists will stay away.
This year we have seen the winter Olympics in Vancouver and the World Cup in South Africa. Both had fewer numbers than forecast. Travellers to South Africa that I know stayed away until a few weeks after the World Cup because of the thought have having to pay higher hotel rates. Vancouver has had bankruptcies as a result of the shortage of visitors. Visit Britain talk of the benefits the UK will get from the games being seen by 4.7 million on TV. Some benefit if we domestic and overseas visitors stay away. The short term impact will be important.
ETOA has highlighted a potential problem, a problem that has hit the last three Olympics at least. Now the Olympics authority, the government, Visit Britain and Visit London have to convince us that the usual tourist and the visitors for the games can both come at the same time. Then they must convince us that the infrastructure can handle moving people around, finding beds for them and visiting tourist spots without large price increases and inconvenience. Otherwise we may be tempted not to return quite so often.

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