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Where Have All The London Tourists Gone?

Posted: 09/08/2012 12:53

Do you remember the fear of chaos in London before the Olympic games? The transport congestion and lack of hotel availability? It was predicted that enormous lines would snake around train stations forcing commuters into a 45-minute wait just to get onto a station platform.

The horror stories and recorded messages from London Mayor, Boris Johnson, all did their job. Commuters adjusted their regular journey or worked from home where possible. The public transport system in London during these Olympics has been a joy - it is the first time in years I can recall a full weekend service.

But TV news reports this week have been full of forlorn retailers complaining of reduced takings because of the Olympics. 'Where is the Olympic boost?' they all seem to be asking. With the London streets quieter than usual and commuters staying at home, many shops are struggling, especially where they ordered extra stock - expecting an Olympic bonanza.

The answer is obvious in some ways, but multilayered and not immediate. The short-term retail decline is almost entirely due to Londoners changing their travel and social plans during the Olympic games. And it is no surprise that London is fairly quiet right now, with fewer tourists than is usual for mid-August. Any tourist who has come to London right now will have specifically wanted to be in London for the games. Any tourist with an interest in the UK, but without wanting the expected chaos of the Olympics, would have avoided these two weeks.

Hotels and retailers should have expected an unusual two weeks. Many predicted a boom, but it's no surprise to see the opposite because of these two simple effects, tourists avoiding the two weeks of the Olympics and locals avoiding unnecessary travel during the games.

The retailers hanging their heads in dismay should celebrate the Olympic boost the UK will now receive after the games. And not in the next month or two, I'm thinking more of how tourists will be inclined to visit London for the next two or three decades just because of the Olympic games.

London is pulling off an enormous success. As a British citizen I may well be biased in saying that this is the greatest Olympics I can ever remember, but in terms of how this is presenting London to the world can you think of a better advert? The team at VisitBritain must be cracking open the Champagne with each passing day just getting better - and we still have the closing ceremony to look forward to this weekend.

If this sounds far-fetched then think about your own choices of holiday destination. Did you ever visit a city because your favourite band formed there? Or you recall watching a movie about somewhere, and always wanted to visit? Or you read a book and wanted to see where the author was born?

I know I have done all these things myself. I've been to Whitby because of the Count Dracula connection, Teignmouth just because of Muse and Portland because of a Chuck Pahlaniuk book.

Does it sound far fetched that a 15-year-old who watched Usain Bolt win in London will book a trip to see London when they are 25? It doesn't sound far-fetched to me. It sounds like an opportunity to use the London Olympic games to promote the UK into the middle of this century at least.

So when retailers in London talk to TV film crews about the scarcity of shoppers this week, they might want to just wait and see what happens next summer, and the summer after that.

 

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