Why tourism may be the big loser at the Olympics

Warning that other visitors will stay away during Games

Simon Calder@SimonCalder
Saturday 05 November 2011 01:00
Artist Tracey Emin with her Olympic poster
Artist Tracey Emin with her Olympic poster

London's Mayor promised the 2012 Olympics will be "Good for this city and for the tourist economy", but travel industry insiders are warning that the capital faces a slump in visitor numbers as both tourists and business travellers shun the capital.

"After six years of hype, we will see two weeks of 'blip', as visitors stay away from London," said Jonathan Callow, managing director of Incentive World Travel. He has followed travellers' behaviour over the past five Olympiads, and predicts both tourist numbers and business travellers will stay away in droves, and hoteliers' expectations of cashing in on the event will prove inflated. Forty thousand hotel rooms are reserved for Locog, the organising committee for the Games. The Hilton Hotels website shows that, of the 22 properties classified as "London", only three have any availability, and none is within 15 miles of the city centre. The only Hilton rooms are in Watford, Cobham and Dartford Bridge, at £290 a night during the Olympics.

Simon Dugan, director of sales for the business travel agency Ian Allan Travel, said: "Our advice to customers has been to avoid London if you possibly can, because it's going to cost a lot of money."

The Olympics will run only from 27 July to 12 August, but there is also pressure before and: some overseas tour operators, such as the big US firm, Tauck Travel, have cancelled all trips to the UK between mid-July and late August.

Individual travellers, as well as agencies, are complaining that with so many beds removed from the market – especially among four- and five-star hotels – prices in the remainder are being sold at highly inflated prices. Mr Callow believes that about three months before the Games, room rates will start to fall dramatically as hoteliers panic. Mr Dugan believes rooms could being sold at heavy discounts through websites such as Groupon and Travelzoo. "Greece [in 2004] was a good example of the miscalculation of the interest and uptake, and what people were prepared to pay," he said. The events themselves will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from the UK and the world, and the tourism authorities are banking on long-term benefits to the UK visitor economy.

Mark Di-Toro of VisitBritain said: "London 2012 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance the image of the UK as a visitor destination, showing the best that Britain has to offer and creating a tourism legacy for years to come." His organisation has launched a campaign aiming to attract four million extra visitors to the UK over the next four years, spending an additional £2bn.

Evidence from Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 suggests that "normal" tourists are deterred from visiting Olympic host cities, because of fears of finding a city in lockdown. For London, there have also been widely publicised concerns about the capacity of the public transport system.

Olympic Art: Triumph or failure

Two birds kissing, a swirling blue mass and a nude study of a Paralympic cyclist are among the 12 official poster images unveiled yesterday for the London 2012 Games. The images, designed by top British artists including four Turner Prize winners and five who have represented the UK at the Venice Biennale, continue a tradition dating to 1912. David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein have created posters for previous Games. Their brief was to celebrate the Games coming to London and to look at the Olympic and Paralympic values.The images will sell as £7 posters and limited edition prints. Here, Michael Glover appraises their efforts.

Tracey Emin

Two sweet birdies touch beaks in mid-flight. Oh dear, Tracey, why did you think that you could get away with a bit of scratchy sentimental hogwash of an over-familiar kind? Does the courage of those Paralympic heroes and heroines really need to be patronised in this way?

Anthea Hamilton

You can understand why Anthea Hamilton has wanted these balletic legs to be juggling the interlocking Olympic rings, and their setting against that tremulous backdrop of water works well visually, but this feels a little too mundane to set the pulse beating. It's a common-or-garden schoolroom effort.

Howard Hodgkin

Hodgkin is playing to his strengths in this semi-abstract representation of the turbulent fluidity of water. He has always shied from calling his work abstract, and now, with this haunting dark ghost of a swimmer, we can have a reason for agreeing with him that his paintings may after all be 'representational pictures of emotional situations'.

Martin Creed

Trust Martin Creed to opt for a beguilingly simple solution. A ziggurat of blocks of colour represents the podium on which the winners will be standing. It seems almost too artless to please, but that combination of colours has a lift and vibrancy. The rough edges please, too, as if is this is a project in the making. With clean lines, it would not have been so effective.

Chris Ofili

He has embedded the ancient within the modern by choosing to show a runner streaking over the surface of a roughly represented Attic amphora of sorts. There is a lovely energy about all this. The poster seems to be straining its every nerve to get us into the mood of the occasion.

Rachel Whiteread

Seems to be reminding us that this Games is as much about enjoying ourselves as watching athletes. The tumbling fall of Olympic rings is reduced to a sequence of fragmentary multi-coloured marks left by glasses on a table. Full marks for a deft bit of humorous lateral thinking.

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