It's a funny old world. We're in the midst of a once in a lifetime experience by hosting an Olympic Games, our athletes are giving everything after years of training, and plenty of us are cheering them on from the stands or through the telly. Yet issues have emerged. Putting aside the various arguments over empty Olympic seats and access to tickets, let's go back a few months, years even when London businesses were practically rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the Olympics. On paper it even made sense, depending which paper you read. Thousands of tourists flocking into the capital to spend, spend, and spend. Everyone would be a winner. The reality is though that Central London is suffering, business takings are down across the board for restaurants, theatres, and shops. In some cases revenues have have fallen by 70%.
If Olympic visitors are not travelling to the West End then where are they going? The answer is Westfield Stratford City and it's been billing itself as the gateway to the Olympic Park. I recently visited Westfield which has the tremendous advantage of being slap bang next to the Park. It also has a multitude of shops, over 300 and at a cost of £ 1.45bn to build, has 1.9 million sq ft of space. Ask yourself this, when you've spent a large sum on tickets for your event in the Park and want to buy something afterwards are you really going to travel all the way into Central London to get it? Or when the kids say that they want new swimming gear after leaving the Aquatics Centre or that they need a basketball and full kit after visiting the Basketball Arena, are you really going to travel all the way into Central London to get them?
You're much more likely after a long day to go to the best nearest place. So when we look at it from that perspective, Westfield was always going to end up the winner and a very high percentage of Olympic visitors were always expected to pass through there anyway. Perhaps too many warnings were dished out about potential travel difficulties in London and it put a lot of visitors off. Time will tell.
To get a picture of how difficult it has been for traders, after three decades the Covent Garden theatre shop Dress Circle is set to close to operate online. The owner had hoped the Olympics would bring in extra trade. It didn't. Taxi drivers are not having a good time and even market stall traders in Greenwich are not seeing much business due to the shepherding of attendees to and from the nearby Equestrian venue. So is the country really missing out on an economic injection? Not really because influential business people worth billions are in the city for The British Embassy's business summits at Lancaster House with a view to invest here. The powers that be are hoping to attract over £1bn in trade and investment for the country.
So it seems that what is taken away with one hand is given back with the other, it's just not been done in the way a large majority of London businesses had hoped or expected.
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