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London tourism rates plunge during Olympics

14:00 AEST Mon Aug 6 2012
AFP
A London double-decker bus (Getty)
A London double-decker bus (Getty)

The London 2012 Olympics appears to be deterring tourists from the capital's centre after warnings of travel chaos and overpriced hotel rooms, according to key industry figures.

Many businesses complain they are being sidelined as tourists make a beeline for the Olympic Games and avoid the capital's other attractions and shopping destinations, while non-sports fans opt to stay at home or delay their trips.

In the run-up to the Olympics, commuters and tourists alike were warned to avoid central London, with millions of athletes, support staff, media and spectators descending on the capital for the greatest show on earth.

The Games have long been heralded as a key boost to the recession-hit British economy. But tourist numbers have fallen "dramatically" since the Games began, according to industry body the European Tour Operators Association.

"London has approximately 300,000 foreign and 800,000 domestic visitors every day in August. These people have been told implicitly that they should stay away and they have done so," said ETOA chief executive Tom Jenkins.

He argued that many were simply following official travel advice from Transport for London, which runs the capital's roads and railways.

"The numbers are currently dramatically down on last year. How far down will be determined by how long Transport for London maintains the 'don't come into London' campaign," added Jenkins.

"But they have been replaced by approximately 500,000 Games ticket holders, many of whom are Londoners, all of whom are here because they've come to watch sport.

"They are not necessarily interested in London as a tourist destination. They are not here to shop, sightsee or dine out," he said.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, agreed that too many tourists have heeded the official warnings, leading him to compare central London streets to a "ghost town".

"Our business is down by about 20-40 percent depending on the time of day," McNamara said.

"Normally about 90 percent of our customers are Londoners but they've all left the city and haven't been replaced by tourists.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

Many holidaymakers are meanwhile delaying their trips to London until September, following the end of the Olympics and Paralympics.

"Compared with the same period last year, bookings for London are very substantially down, whereas bookings for all other European cities are significantly up -- as is London in September," said Angela Skelly, head of hotel room provider JacTravel.

Despite the poor anecdotal evidence, tourism chiefs remain upbeat that London can prosper from the Olympics.

"We have always recognised that the London 2012 Games would present challenges as well as opportunities," said Mark Di-Toro, spokesman for tourism body VisitBritain.

"Host cities and countries usually experience a dip in tourism in the year of the Olympics and it is our ambition to buck that trend."

He added: "Indications are that hotels in London are around 80-percent full during Games time."

The British government hopes to generate deals worth more than $1.4 billion over the Olympics, with $19 billion more over the next two or three years. The Games are costing $14 billion to stage.