Leading article: Now is the time to visit London

 

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Even as Stratford – home of the Olympic Park – is booming, the West End is, by London standards at least, all but deserted. For all that Londoners are glorying in the novelty of finding a seat on the Underground and not having to book ahead for a table at the capital's more popular restaurants, dark warnings of another economic hit are gaining in volume. The number of shoppers was down by an economically unhelpful 11 per cent last weekend, restaurateurs are bemoaning turnover at less than half of usual levels, and theatre bookings are set to fall by around a third.

Why the surprise, though? That there should be fewer non-Olympic tourists visiting the capital is entirely predictable. Any notion that visitors would choose to pay inflated travel costs and overblown hotel bills without going to the Games themselves was never terribly realistic. Indeed, the lesson from previous Olympiads is much the same. Add in the almost hysterical warnings about the likely collapse of London's transport network, and the capital's quiet streets were entirely to be expected.

With so many visitors staying away – the 100,000 attending the Games each day is nowhere near the usual daily influx of 300,000 – and many Londoners, unsurprisingly, choosing to stay in and watch the action on television, even the boost from ticket sales is unlikely to balance the short-term hit to the capital's economy. It would be as well not to be too gloomy, however; over the longer term, the picture is rather brighter. Even if the Government's hope of £13bn worth of Games-related deals proves over-optimistic, it is not unreasonable to expect some kind of Olympic bounce. And every glorious sporting backdrop of Hampton Court Palace or the spectacular City skyline cannot but be an advert for Britain as a tourist destination.

And in the meantime, such unseasonal calm must surely be an invitation for the rest of us – not just Londoners, but visitors from across Britain – to get out there and enjoy the VIP treatment of a capital wonderfully free from the usual crowds. Even better, despite all the dire prognoses, the Tube seems, so far, to be bearing up just fine.

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