Tony Blair promised “A once-in-an-era opportunity for British tourism”. Boris Johnson predicted “When hundreds of thousands of people come, it will inevitably be good for this city”. But the official figures show tourism slumped over the London Olympics, contributing to a dismal summer for visitor numbers.
Tourist arrivals from abroad in June, July and August dwindled by 7 per cent compared with 2011, representing an average of 7,000 fewer visitors per day. Those who did come, however, spent freely, making up the revenue lost from absent tourists.
An all-time monthly record was set in August of £2.38 billion in tourism revenue - average spending of over £1,000 per second. The typical visitor who attended at least one Olympic event spent twice as much as someone who avoided the Games.
Sandie Dawe, Chief Executive of VisitBritain said: "The first eight months of the year saw a record in terms of the amount of spend, and now with August's figures on visits we are at the same level as we were in 2011". She said a decline in tourism in August was "expected," and was in line with the forecast that overall visitor numbers would be flat in 2012.
But Neil Wootton, Managing Director of the leading inbound operator, Premium Tours, said his company saw revenue in June, July and August fall by almost a quarter.
"We are a classic yardstick for measuring inbound tourists and their expenditure. We were down, and so was everybody else. From pubs, to theatres, to shops and taxi drivers, there is not a single person I have spoken to since the Olympics that did not suffer. The Games were a roaring success - it's a great shame that we can't say the same for British tourism in 2012."
Some predictions for the Olympics proved especially wide of the mark. BAA, the owner of Heathrow, anticipated that on 26 July - the day before the Opening Ceremony - every seat on every inbound flight to the airport would be filled, with 10 per cent more passengers than the previous busiest day in its history. In fact, numbers were down on the corresponding day a year earlier.
Forecasts that the British would forego their usual summer holiday to stay at home for the Games were also mistaken. The outbound figures for June, July and August show no significant change on the summer of 2011.
Once abroad, UK holidaymakers spent 7 per cent more than last year, collectively burning through a million pounds every 12 minutes during the summer. The "tourism deficit", representing the excess of British travellers' spending abroad over revenues from overseas visitors, soared by 15 per cent between June and August to £5.3 billion.