Games may not boost British tourism

Games may not boost British tourism

Published Jun. 14, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

With just six weeks to go before the start of the summer Olympics, the 2012 Games are not shaping up as a medal winner for British tourism.

Despite the anticipated arrival of 600,000 to 700,000 Olympics visitors to the country in July and August, UK tourism officials say that overall overseas visits to Britain will be about the same in 2012 as the prior year, about 30.7 million. They expect visitor spending to be unchanged at £17.9 billion ($27.7 billion).

One problem is the sour global economy, especially in Europe, which is causing a "real absence of consumer confidence," said David Edwards, head of research and forecasting at VisitBritain, the national tourism agency. "Without the games, it would be a much more challenging year."

But the Olympics themselves also are a hindrance, as some travelers avoid London because they fear overpriced hotel rooms, crowds or other problems.


The country's tourism officials have already discounted a short-term boost and are now hoping that benefits from the event will accrue in the coming years, propelled by its publicity bounty.

Some in the industry say UK tourism during the Olympic period — from July 27 to Aug. 12 — may actually decline. Half the attractions and hotel operators polled by UKInbound, a tourism trade association, said they expected fewer visitors in July and August than in last year's period, a "significantly less optimistic" outlook than earlier polls. London hotels' occupancy is usually 85 percent year-round on average.

"The industry is very concerned and the government should be too," said Mary Rance, UKInbound's chief executive.

The association's respondents described the games as a short-term setback rather than an asset to tourism. Others in the industry say a change in tourism patterns is normal in such circumstances.

"Arguably, the usual traveler has been put off by the higher hotel prices and the hotel-room shortage when the London Olympics committee overestimated the number of rooms they required for officials," said Jason Doll-Steinberg, director of tour operator British Tours Ltd.

Doll-Steinberg said that his business has recently tapered off after doing well earlier this year. "It's possible these were visitors who came early to avoid the Olympic rush," he said.

Arrivals will peak on July 26, a day before the Opening Ceremonies, with more than 14,000 inbound travelers scheduled to reach the capital on that day, the data show.