London tourism struggles during Olympics


Peter Woodman
Tuesday 31 July 2012 15:54 BST

London's tourism industry is struggling to compete with the impact of the Olympic Games, which has left the host city a “ghost town”, businesses said today.

Many traditional tourist hotspots have reported a fall in ticket sales as visitors flock to Olympic venues across the capital.

Theatre companies said they were seeing a “mixed picture” with many companies struggling due to the lack of footfall in the West End.

Mark Rubinstein, president of the Society of London Theatre, said: “Normally tourists will visit central London but they are mostly here to see the Games.

”The message about travel problems also seems to have kept people away. My experience is things are running smoothly and people should not be put off.

“There is a great opportunity to get out there to see some fantastic shows.”

Sri Balay, online sales manager at Leicester Square Box Office, said: “Theatre in general is pretty quiet. We have a lot of visitors going past but they are going to Olympic events or spending a lot on hotels.

”We would usually be busy at this time of year because it's the summer holidays and lots of families enjoy going to the theatre. But at the moment it's very quiet.“

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, said cab drivers had been hit hard and described London as a ”ghost town“.

Mr McNamara added: ”Anecdotally our business is down by about 20-40 per cent depending on the time of day.

“Normally about 90 per cent of our customers are Londoners but they've all left the city and haven't been replaced by tourists.

”I don't know where all these tourists are or how they're getting about but London is like a ghost town.

“Some drivers are working longer hours just to stand still, others have taken a conscious decision not to pay certain bills while others have just given up and gone away.”

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said there had been a fall in the number of visitors.

“Anecdotally at the moment, it is looking like we are about 25-30 per cent down on the same time last year,” she said.

“The positive thing from the museum's perspective and something we would be keen to get across is that we are open and ready to take visitors and so it is an extremely good time to come to the British Museum and we would encourage everyone to do that.”

Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum, next door to Lambeth Palace in London, said an exhibition at the museum charting the history of foreign flora in British gardens had proved popular.

But he said the museum had suffered a drop in the number of people booking wedding receptions over August because of the Olympics and the Paralympics.

“The positive has been that visitors have been very happy but the negative has been that we have been hit by the loss of wedding receptions which is a major source of income to the museum,” he said.

“No one is getting married in London in August.

“We have also scheduled the opening of our exhibition to September because of London being semi-deserted.”

He added that the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations had brought a boost to the museum.

“The Queen's Jubilee was wonderful, we were packed to the rafters with a really happy, nice bunch of people,” he said.

“The Jubilee was a big plus this year.”

Bernard Donoghue, chief executive of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, which represents venues ranging from London Zoo to St Paul's Cathedral, said visitor numbers were down by between 30 per cent and 35 per cent.

He added: “There are two groups of people missing. The first are general visitors to London who are staying clear because of the perception that London will be busy.

“The second are Londoners and Brits who have been warned there will be a transport nightmare.

“Our message to them is that, while it may be sensible to avoid certain peak times and locations, transport is running very smoothly.

“Ironically there has never been a better time to visit our attractions because the queues are shorter and opening times have been extended.”


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