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News Article

How was London 2012 for tourism?

Mixed picture from early figures on visitors and hotel occupancy

The London 2012 Olympics have been an unquestioned success for GB sporting achievement and for the friendly and welcoming image projected by London during the Games. But do the tourism figures match up to either the doom-laden forecasts of the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) or the optimism of official tourism bodies?

It will be a while before there are definitive answers, but current reports suggest a mixed picture: lower numbers of international visitors than in a normal summer, and changed patterns of spending, but hotel occupancy similar to the norm.

UKinbound, a leading trade association representing British tour operators and other businesses dependent on tourists, has issued a survey of more than 250 tour operators, hoteliers and visitor attractions which found that tourist traffic fell all over Britain, not just London.

"A lot of people thought London would be very busy and very expensive at this time," said Mary Rance, the group's chief executive. "We weren't completely surprised but we were a bit disappointed that (the Olympics) seem to have had an impact around the U.K., not just London."

The group's survey said that of its members, 88 percent reported some losses during the games compared to the same period last year. The businesses reported that visitor numbers were down by 10 to 30 percent compared to last year, Rance said.

Official visitor figures won't be available until September. Tourism officials say that international Olympics visitors to London, including athletes, officials and tourists, totaled about 300,000. Domestic spectators from Britain made up the majority of people visiting games venues.

Miles Quest, a spokesman for the British Hospitality Association, said that London's hotels have hit about 80 percent occupancy, which is not higher than typical August rates. But data from STR Global, says that from 27 July until 5 August 2012, hoteliers across London reported 87.7 percent occupancy and £216.42 average room rate (ADR). This represents an increase of 3.2 percent and 87.1 percent, respectively compared to the same days the year prior.

"Hotels across London continue to report increasing occupancy levels and average room rates during the Olympic period when compared to last year", said Elizabeth Randall Winkle, managing director of STR Global, in a press release on 8 August. "We are also seeing improvement from weaker occupancy performances in June and early July so it is good to see that performance has been picking up during the Olympics. However, Heathrow and Gatwick, in the west and south of London and therefore less convenient for Olympic venues, have reported occupancy declines for the Olympic period".

STR Global says that in the Welsh capital Cardiff, each of four football matches involving GB men's and women's teams boosted hotel occupancy levels to 90 percent and above for the night of the game.

Visa, the only credit card accepted at the Olympics venues, reported that international visitors to Britain spent more than 450 million pounds ($705 million) on their cards during the first week of the games, up by 8 percent on the same time last year. Around 12.7 million pounds were spent on Visa cards in London restaurants that week, an increase of almost 20 percent on a year ago.

Defying early predictions of a "bloodbath" for London theatre, the BBC on 7 August reported that box office takings for the first seven days of the London 2012 Games were up £250,000 on the previous week. Producer Andrew Lloyd Webber indicated that theatre audiences were not drawn from the usual overseas summer visitors - with most patrons coming from the UK instead.

"They do appear to be mainly British," he told the BBC. "A lot of people are coming to London and saying 'let's take in a show too', which is great.

London and Partners, the company that oversees the tourism industry in the capital, said it had expected the lower visitor numbers this summer. But it stressed that it was more important to focus on the long-term effect the Olympics can have in bringing in potential tourists.

"We are now working with (tour operators) to promote the legacy of the games and to turn the millions of viewers into visitors, who can come to the capital and experience the new attractions and exciting places they have seen on their screens," it said in a statement.

UK tourism bosses claim that they've learnt from previous host cities that have failed to record subsequent tourism boosts, and will launch extensive marketing campaigns to capitalise on the 'Olympic effect'. In a speech to industry leaders, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has today set out the government's strategy to "turbo-charge" tourism in the wake of the success of London 2012. He wants to see an extra 4.5 million visitors to the UK in the coming years, which could lead to £2bn in extra spending and 60,000 additional jobs.

Anecdotal reports certainly suggest that media, athletes and foreign visitors were all pleasantly surprised by the warmth of their reception in Britain during the last two weeks, with normal British reserve disappearing as enthusiasm for the Olympics soared.

"When we are promoting ourselves abroad we can do something we never thought we could do before - we can say 'come to Britain because it's friendly'" says Jeremy Hunt. "Before, we thought that was perhaps one of our weaker areas. It isn't, and we've proved that to the world."

Mr Hunt argued that the Olympics had been a "catalyst for a change in attitudes" of the British people towards tourists.

"We have seen that when we project this image to the world, it's something that we rather like as well - we like being thought of as friendly and welcoming, so I think it will change opinions and attitudes in the long term."

But what the long-term outcome of the positive publicity and infrastructure improvement will be for national tourism will only be determined in the months and years to come.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 14 August 2012
  • Subject(s)
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Hospitality Sector
  • Sport
  • Tourism