After the Games, the big tourism push begins
Business leaders say trade is badly hit, but officials predict a long-term economic boom
James Bond, the Beatles and the Highlands of Scotland are to be used to lure tourists back to Britain in a global marketing campaign to be launched within hours of the end of the London Olympics. Britain's best-loved films, music and landscapes will be used to propel it up the holiday wish list of millions of tourists, by "harvesting the afterglow" of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The ambitious drive comes as ministers and tourism chiefs face allegations that official hysteria about avoiding central London during the Games has caused an unnecessary slump in visitors. VisitBritain, the government-funded tourism agency, admitted to being "worried" by claims that parts of the capital have become like a "ghost town", as foreign visitors and Londoners stayed away.
But VisitBritain insists the weeks during the Games are a short-term blip, and the real boost to the industry will come in the months and years ahead. It believes that between 2011 and 2015, an extra 4.4 million people overseas travellers will come here, spending an extra £2.3bn. In the first five months of 2012, a record 4.58 million people came on holiday to Britain, with sharp rises in numbers from Thailand, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa and India.
Danny Boyle's opening ceremony which saw a green and pleasant land transformed by dark satanic mills and featured music, culture and Thomas Heatherwick's iconic Olympic cauldron, has been hailed as the best advert the tourism industry could have. Now many elements of it will be repeated in the latest stage of a four-year, £100m marketing campaign aimed at securing a permanent boost to visitor numbers. Half of the money is coming from the taxpayer, and the rest from private companies including British Airways, Hilton Worldwide, P&O Ferries and Virgin Atlantic.
James Bond's position as one of Britain's biggest exports was firmly cemented by the opening ceremony when Daniel Craig was greeted by the Queen, making her acting debut, with the words: "Good evening, Mr Bond." The release of Skyfall, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, will also play a key part in the way Britain is marketed.
October also marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles first major single, "Love Me Do". While Paul McCartney's performance of "Hey Jude" in the opening ceremony caused headline writers to ponder if it was time to hang up his guitar, the Fab Four remain a symbol of British culture and help to attract tourists beyond the capital. And 2013 will be celebrated as the Year of Natural Scotland, aimed at countering the idea that Britain lacks the rugged landscapes other European countries have to offer. It is also hoped the thousands of stewards, seen wearing pink on the streets and at venues, have helped to change the impression of Britain as a country where the welcome is not always warm.
Industry leaders have been spooked by the experience of Australia, which enjoyed blanket coverage during the 2000 Sydney Games, but failed to convert it into a long-term rise in visitors. In London, hotel bookings are stable at around 80 per cent, but it seems few of those with tickets for Olympic events are venturing in to London's usual tourist hot spots. Footfall in West End shops last week was down 4.5 per cent, while taxi drivers report business slumping by as much as 40 per cent. Big-name retailers have reported a drop in trade.
Tourist attractions, restaurants and theatres say they were prepared for a drop in the number of foreign visitors, knowing only sports fans would be in town. But what has left them shocked, and staring at empty tills, is the way Londoners have deserted the city centre. For that, they blame the warnings of ministers, City Hall and Transport for London that the transport system would be gridlocked and the capital should be avoided at all costs.
Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab, of Roast and the Cinnamon Club, said: "We were told to bolt ourselves down and be prepared for huge swathes of people flowing through. Not only did the deluge never materialise but our numbers are down by about 20 per cent on the same time last year."
For museums and galleries the first full week of the Games was dire, with the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions reporting numbers down by 35 to 40 per cent. Bernard Donoghue, chief executive of the ALVA, said: "We are trying to encourage Londoners back into the capital. We hope to see a short-term benefit with Londoners taking up the opportunity to use attractions in a way they have never done before but also the long-term benefit comes from the global TV coverage."
The red carpet has been rolled out for tour operators and travel agents from some of Britain's key target markets including China, India, the US and Brazil. More than 20 senior figures from firms such as STA, Thomas Cook and Globus will watch events at the Games today after spending the week touring the UK.
Laurence Bresh, marketing director of VisitBritain, said the post-Games marketing push was unprecedented. "We are ready to seal the deal," he said. "We have got to spoon-feed people and put really good deals in front of them and make them want to come now."
Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, told The Independent on Sunday last month: "Other Games have had the publicity but they haven't got the bums on seats and the heads in beds to follow." The official launch will come when the Paralympic Games end on 9 September, but tourism bosses are buoyed by the international response to the Games so far. Richard Dickinson, the chief executive of the New West End Company, which represents Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said: "The images of London's West End now being seen by billions around the world can only help attract new shoppers from Asia, South America and North Africa bringing millions of pounds in till receipts."
Have the problems been as bad as expected?
What they said Grim tidings in Tube announcements from Boris Johnson: "Our roads and public transport services are going to be exceptionally busy." He said more than a million people a day were going to put "huge pressure on the transport network".
What happened With the exception of the Central Line's almost daily capitulation, the tube has coped incredibly well, with journeys up by around 1 per cent.
Outcome The Boris recordings are dropped. Now commuters are told: "While in central London, why not visit shops, restaurants and theatres?"
What they said The 30-mile network of dedicated lanes for athletes, dignitaries and the "Olympic family" was going to bring gridlock to London's roads. "Confused" motorists, fearing a £130 fine, vacated the lanes before they were in force. The Highways Agency denied reports of 32-mile queues.
What happened Ministers were told to use public transport. David Cameron was photographed using the Tube. The IOC president Jacques Rogge used the Docklands Light Railway.
Outcome Within days of the Games beginning it was announced many of the lanes were being turned off.
What they said The Olympic Delivery Authority warned many business were ill-prepared for "the largest peacetime logistical exercise that any country can undertake".
What happened Businesses in central London reported a slump in trade. Not only have foreign visitors stayed away but Londoners and commuters too.
Outcome Jeremy Hunt said it was always going to be quiet. Traders told him he is "an idiot".
What they said During the first ballot 20 million tickets were applied for when six million were available. The London Games would be a sell-out, we were told.
What happened Less than a fortnight before the opening ceremony, 700,000 tickets were unsold. As the Games got under way, fans watching on TV were dismayed to see rows and rows of empty seats – most belonging to corporate sponsors, Olympic dignitaries and the media, who have 32,000 places reserved.
Outcome Lord Coe asked for unused tickets to be returned to be sold to the public. More than 100,000 were resold in 48 hours, but 2.5 million applied. More than one in six corporate seats are still empty.
What they said With two weeks to go, the private security firm G4S admitted it could not provide its 10,400 contracted guards, and an additional 4,700 troops were sent in. There were protests over surface-to-air missiles being stationed on flats.
What happened Predicted queues at venues have not materialised, and to date there have been no major security breaches.
Outcome The reputation of the armed forces has been bolstered. And when empty seats needed filling, who better than soldiers?
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