An "Olympic hangover" could see London turn into a ghost town bereft of tourists immediately after the Games.
The Olympics begin next month and conclude with the closing ceremonies on 12 August. Heathrow airport predicts that the following day will be the busiest in its history for outbound passengers. The mass exodus is expected to be so swift that hotels adjacent to the Olympic Stadium have been offering rooms at the end of that week for less than £10 per person per night.
Senior figures in tourism have told The Independent of fears that "normal" visitors will stay away from London all summer. Nick Varney, chief executive of Britain's leading attractions operator, Merlin, said: "The travel trade who normally bring tourist groups have basically switched away from London. Hotel rooms have gone up in price, and they've thought, 'We don't even want to deal with being in London through that summer period'. So immediately, there's a trade hit."
Hotel rates in the aftermath of the Olympics have slumped. The new Premier Inn beside the Olympic Park in Stratford is charging £199 a room per night during the Olympics. But by Friday 17 August the hotel is cutting prices by over 80 per cent to just £39 – the rate at which The Independent secured a booking for a family of four.
Stratford is not a recognised tourist area, so a steep decline in demand once the Games are over is to be expected. But hotels in the tourist heartland of the capital are also cutting rates dramatically. The Travelodge in Covent Garden is selling twin rooms on Friday 17 August for under £43 – less than the cost of a modest dinner in the area and a quarter of the price charged a week earlier.
The pattern is repeated at the top end of the market. The Trafalgar Hilton has availability on only a few nights during the Games, when its lowest room rate is £630. From the night of 13 August onwards, this falls by almost £500 for guests who book ahead.
The Olympics rate for the Claude Monet one-bedroom suite at the Savoy is £6,900. This includes "the river views that inspired Monet to paint" as well as the services of a butler. But by waiting a few days prospective guests can save more than £4,000.
Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, said: "The benchmark standard for major events is that they cause a drop in inbound tourism in the year in which they happen." But he added: "So far we're doing better than flat".
London's deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, said: "After the Games, there will be an exaggerated effect of people staying away because they're uncertain about what state the city is in."
Meanwhile, the Paralympics – which run from 29 August to 9 September – are pushing up rates at the Premier Inn adjacent to the stadium to £189.
Cheap rooms: How to find a bargain
Visitors to London will have an opportunity to snap up some of the 150,000 beds available in the capital at bargain rates after the Olympics are over.
As with low-cost airlines, avoid the busy times and you can pay a fraction of peak rates. The difference this year is that mid-August – when the capital is normally thronged with visitors – is low season.
The hotels' own websites are usually the best places to buy. Many hotel chains guarantee that the room rates offered direct will not be undercut. But further searching online can also turn up better deals.
Gold rush: the best post-games deals
The Savoy, Claude Monet Suite
£6,900 during Games. £2,634 after Games (-62%)
Premier Inn, Stratford
£199 during Games. £39 after Games (-80%)
£229 during Games. £95 after Games (-58%)
£630 during Games. £131 after Games (-79%)
St Pancras Renaissance
£678 during Games. £260 after Games (-62%)
All rates are the lowest available researched online direct with hotels' booking sites on the afternoon of 18 June 2012. The Olympics rate is for 10 August, or for the closest date with availability. The post-Olympics rate is for 17/18 August.