Sports tourism for London? Maybe not, as more opposition is emerging against London 2012 Olympics


LONDON (eTN) – The response of Visit London’s Mark Howell(see video) about the opposition of the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) has come under fire.

David Tarsh writes: “Mark’s response to ETOA’s report misses the reason for the Olympics’ tourism problem entirely. His answer suggests London is different, because it is London, and it is accessible as a short-haul destination.

“However, whether it is long haul or short haul is irrelevant to the problem of market distortion in hotel accommodation. If one’s trip is long enough that one needs to stay overnight, one needs a room, and Mark failed to address the problem over block booking of hotel accommodation and what this does to deter all regular tourist business.”
According to Mr. Tarsh, the problem stems from the organizers block booking rooms far in advance and usually block booking way more rooms than they need. “This creates a false expectation in the minds of hoteliers, who, convinced that they will be full, demand inflated rates and guarantees. As a result, regular operators can’t contract accommodation as they would normally (because prices are too high or conditions punitive), and as a consequence they can’t afford to engage.”

He adds, “News of high room rates always leaks out, and consumers who then stay away owing to the fear (real or imaginery) that the city will be crowded and excessively expensive.

“Only much closer to the games does it become apparent that too many rooms have been penciled. The consequence is that the accommodation is actually not needed and much is dumped at the last minute.

“For as long as this issue is not properly aired and real accommodation supply and demand is not rigorously assessed, tourism will fall victim to the Games.”

Meanwhile, CITE’s Jane E. Shuldt also believes David Tarsh is correct about Howell’s response. She writes: “David Tarsh has hit the nail on the head. I’ve experienced from a first-hand planning perspective the Sydney, Beijing, and soon London Games.

“Exempting top sponsors who receive room blocks, as well as officially-appointed tour operators who are granted tickets and rooms, booking rooms in and around the Olympic period outside of a city-wide block is an art, not a science. There may be rooms to be had in advance outside of these blocks, but at a steep price.”

(Affordable) rooms, sans tickets, always come onto the market too close in to operation for individuals to really intelligently plan for such an important visit.

Further, Miss Shuldt also says: “I also agree with the audience participant who said the focus for the destination needs to be on the ‘after’. A comprehensive marketing plan that addresses a destination immediately upon conclusion of the games is strategic to re-igniting normal tourism in the city and should already be designed.”

She adds: “Don’t forget that leading up to the games, the rates are also building incrementally and annually, which is another deterrent to visiting in advance. This makes the period just after a wonderful opportunity for the destinations to reap and sow their unique value proposition at that specific time and attract significant incremental tourism numbers.”

In conclusion, she says: “Piggybacking off years and millions of dollars/pounds of advertising and promotion can be enormously effective to filling cities and rooms in the post-Games period. Where hotels and marketing organizations were too focused on the period of the run-up to and the Games themselves (often keeping rates too high for too long) versus on the day after the Games close, is where significant opportunity has been wasted. This need not be the case.”

London is set to host the next Summer Olympics Games in 2012, but ETOA has been campaigning that the event will do more damage to the city’s “normal tourism.” The association has based its forecast on the last Olympics held in Beijing, China.