London Olympics bad for tourism, British paper says ... Jaunt.ca deal to Jamaica
I'm always amazed at how little we learn from the past.
No, I'm not talking about Rob Ford and his inane policies about subways and streetcars.I'm talking about the Olympics and their impact on tourism.
Almost every day in almost every continent of the world, some city or sports official is sitting around a table and telling folks that if they only had the Olympics, all their troubles would be over. The city will get all sorts of great benefits and the summer (or winter) cash registers will ring merrily from dawn til dusk, and far beyond.
It's all bull----.
Oh, sure, the Olympics can transform a city for the better. Look at Barcelona. Then again, look at Atlanta. And Beijing, with its empty Birds Nest Stadium. And, sorry about this, Montreal, with its decades-long debt from the Big O (see photo).
Long- term, the benefits from new projects and higher profile can be tremendous. I have no doubt Sydney surged to the top of everyone's list after we see the magical job they did on the 2000 Summer Olympics.
But short-term? All those dreams of crazy crowds filling hotels and spending wildly never quite seem to come to pass. Sure, the Olympics bring in lots of people. But they also cause a lot of people to shun the city like the proverbial plague; avoiding any chance of getting caught up in the traffic nightmares and such, which, consequently, almost never come to pass. Folks in LA in 1984 said they'd never seen the city's freeways so empty.
In Vancouver, the city did quite well during the Winter Games. Trendy restaurants downtown were packed and hotels did well. But the suburbs didn't cash in the way they expected, as I recall.
Anyway, the latest version of this five-ring dance comes in London, which is hosting the world (or parts of it) starting July 27 for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The British media has been filled of late with stories of doom and gloom. Yes, it's par for the course for British newspapers. When they're not busy hacking into celebrities' telephones, they spend a lot of time raining on whatever parade happens to be in town. But there's some truth to this week's headlines.
A story in the Independent this week says that when they were in the initial planning stages, Olympic organizers "needlessly" put aside thousands of hotel rooms for media and sporting hotshots, thus sending hotel rates through the roof and actually DISCOURAGING tourists from coming to town.
How delicious is that?
The Independent story says organizers reserved a quarter more hotel nights than they had to and have since given back 120,000 of 600,000 room nights previously booked.
"Tour operators warned last night that a sudden flood of vacant rooms would be too late to boost visitor numbers. Analysis for The Independent suggests up to one million beds will now go unsold over the Olympic period, hitting hoteliers and others working in the tourism industry. One trade association estimated income could slump by up to £3.5bn during July and August," which is something like $5 billion or more.
I suspect those rooms will NOT go unsold. Undoubtedly, some rooms will be available at more reasonable rates pretty soon. And that's a good thing.
The article quotes a leading London-based tour operator saying the high lodging rates have driven business elsewhere -- and not just during the July-August event, either.
"Prices have been so high that tourists are moving elsewhere. Overseas wholesalers who traditionally push London have switched to other cities this year," said Neil Wootton of Premium Tours. "If the Parisian and Italian hoteliers do their job then the tours may never return to London."
"Hotel rates have broadly tripled in London during the Olympics," the paper said. "Six months ago The Independent made a booking for the DoubleTree by Hilton in Holborn, central London, for 1 August 2012. The rate, £450, is four times the price of taking a room last night, and 150 per cent higher than for 1 August last year. Yet evidence from previous Olympiads, together with analysis by The Independent of the likely propensity of ticket-holders to book hotels in London, suggest hoteliers' expectations are wildly optimistic, exacerbated by Locog's (the London organizing committee's) similar over-optimism."
The likelihood is that London's hotels will be less than 80 per cent full – representing one million empty beds over the duration of the Games, or 55,000 beds every night. In July and August of a normal year, occupancy is 90 per cent or more.
The Olympics are an event held every two years. The International Olympic Committee, to its credit, has created a group that shares Olympic expertise between various cities so a Vancouver, for example, can learn from the Turin 2006 or Salt Lake 2002 people about how to build skating arenas or what's the best type of snow-making machine or how to sell tickets.
It's too bad there's no Olympic tourism board to help travel officials in the same way that the IOC helps the organizing committees...
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