Olympic ‘tourism-bounce’ claims challenged by businesses

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By Bob Duncan
 
Small business owners are incensed with UK culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who has claimed that the London Olympics were “a very good period” for tourism.
 
Travel companies and other tourist businesses, both in London and around the country, have complained that the games period was one of the worst they can remember and that they may take a long time to recover from the loss of income.

Their anger was compounded when Mr Hunt denied that there had been a drop in business.  In an interview on Tuesday, he said: “It was quieter in the first week of the Olympics, but picked up a lot in the second week.  West End businesses did well – theatre bookings up 25 per cent on a year ago according to Andrew Lloyd Webber, restaurant bookings up 20 per cent according to Visa.”

UKinbound, the leading trade association for tour operators, said 66% of businesses surveyed reported that their foreign tourism bookings were significantly down year-on-year.

The survey, which included tour operators, hoteliers and visitor attractions, showed that tourist traffic fell across the UK, not just in London.  They said many travellers side-stepped Britain altogether in order to avoid the capital, the country’s biggest international gateway.

Speaking to BBC radio 5 Live, Mr Hunt admitted London had been a ghost town. “The Olympic effect is massively disruptive and you do get, in any city that hosts an Olympics, tour groups saying we’re going to avoid that city during this summer because it’s just going to be too busy,” he said.

“But what you also get is a massive long-term boost to your reputation. You get a big, big uplift, but you’ve got to capitalise on it.”

However, Neil Wootton, managing director of the sightseeing specialist Premium Tours, said business was down by 42 per cent year on year:

“It will take a long time to repair the shortfall of this summer.  The knock-on implication has been felt by all attractions, venues, hotels and pubs we use – with some privately owned establishments calling us in panic-stricken attempts to drum up business.  The biggest concern is how many smaller companies, which depend upon the key selling months of June, July and August, can survive the winter.”

Rosslyn Glassman, a West End art dealer with a high proportion of overseas customers agreed, saying: “Turnover has been half that of regular weeks.” He said official warnings to avoid the capital had been far too strident.

The Culture Secretary rejected the criticism. “What we actually had last week was record numbers travelling on the Tube – 4.61 million people on certain days. We got everyone to their Olympic events on time. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we hadn’t warned people that central London was going to be busy, discouraging some non-essential travel.”

Here in Scotland, Andrew Johnson, director of Camera Obscura on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, said: “Our visitor numbers have fallen by 10 per cent over the past two weeks.  That is actually rather good compared to the other attractions I have spoken to.”