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News Article

Central London fails to strike Gold: all quiet away from Olympics


Warnings on travel work too well as public stays away

With two gold medals finally on the board for Team GB on the fifth day of competition, enthusiasm for Olympic sport is sky-high in Britain, and huge crowds have been lining the streets for events such as road cycling where the public can get in on the action without fighting for tickets. But after fears of travel congestion in London and warnings to non-Olympic travellers to avoid central London at peak times, media reports suggest that the public has heeded the warnings too well as the West End becomes remarkably quiet in what is normally a peak tourism season.

Official travel advice for Transport for London had told people to stay away, and employers have been encouraged to allow staff to change their hours or work from home. The result is that London's much-criticised transport network is coping well, and that London Underground traffic has only increased by 4%.

Jace Tyrrell, spokesman for New West End Company, which represents more than 600 retailers, property owners and businesses in central London, said they expected a change in trading patterns, but that advice from Transport for London (TfL) warning commuters may be working better than intended.

"TfL's advice in terms of capacity on the network has almost been too successful," Tyrrel told Reuters, adding that shopper numbers were down but there were more high-spenders in the British capital.

"We need to change the messaging there, in terms of there aren't the difficulties on the network that we thought there would be."

However, Reuters reports that retail areas near the Olympic Park such as the vast Westfield shopping centre at the entrance are booming.

Other London tourist attractions also complained that there has been a 30 to 35 percent drop in visitor numbers at the height of their summer high season, when schools are out and many people take their vacations.

Bernard Donoghue, chief executive of The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, the body representing London's top tourist attractions such as the London Zoo, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey said the statistics apply to overseas and domestic visitors.

"We and all of our members are incredibly positive about London and Britain hosting the Olympics not least because the tourism legacy of hosting the Olympics and having that global TV advertisement for Britain to the world's largest TV audience will be brilliant for British tourism in the long term."

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, agreed that too many tourists have heeded the official warnings, leading him to compare central London streets to a "ghost town".

"Our business is down by about 20-40 percent depending on the time of day," McNamara said, reported by AFP.

Advance bookings for London's theatres had held up better than once predicted, but media reports suggest that there has been a fall in last minute sales.

Mark Rubinstein, president of the Society of London Theatre, said: "Normally tourists will visit central London but they are mostly here to see the Games.

"The message about travel problems also seems to have kept people away. My experience is things are running smoothly and people should not be put off.

"There is a great opportunity to get out there to see some fantastic shows."

There are mixed reports on how the Games are affecting hotel business. Some media reports claim that rooms are empty and prices falling, but hotel market information company STR Global says that from 27 July until 29 July 2012, hoteliers across London reported 84.4 percent occupancy and £224.72 average room rates.

"Hotel performance is strong, London hotels are busy. Some but not all are full; there is room in the inn but overall hotels are in a good position", commented Elizabeth Randall, managing director of STR Global.

Historically, Olympic host cities do not sell out, Randall said. Reviewing hotel performance over the past four summer games, back to 1996 in Atlanta, none of the host cities' occupancy surpassed 90 percent for the months in which the Olympics occurred, according to STR Global.

"During a normal period, hoteliers are able to anticipate demand based on known trends and can therefore plan for short-notice demand to supplement cancellations and no-shows", Randall said. "When an international event comes to town, these variables are more difficult to control or predict."

Occupancy has been trailing behind last year for most of June and July. Recent days' occupancy achieved around 85 percent.*

The Docklands/Greenwich submarket achieved the highest occupancy for the Olympic period through 29 July with 94.9 percent, followed by the West End with 89.0 percent.

And London Mayor Boris Johnson is painting a typically positive picture, saying that "many, many thousands of people are flowing into London, the hotels are busy, the Olympic venues are attracting huge numbers."

"These games are a one-off, an opportunity like no other to show London to the world," Johnson said.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 02 August 2012
  • Subject(s)
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • General Leisure and Recreation
  • Hospitality Sector
  • Sport
  • Tourism