The “Saturation Olympics”: Too Much Too Soon?

If you’re reading this article immediately on publication, there are just 255 days until the Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony (27th July) and 34 until Christmas Day. Or perhaps that should be “33” for Latin Americans, who tend to attach more importance to Christmas Eve. Many UK department stores didn’t even wait until the summer was over before launching their “festive season” promotions. On July 28th, BBC News London reported that “Yuletide cards, decorations and trees ” were already on display at both Harrods and Selfridges. An article in “The Guardian” in September noted that Christmas puddings and advent calendars had appeared on the shelves of supermarkets earlier than in previous years “in a bid to beat the recession” and queried whether Christmas had “started too soon”. The results of a poll conducted by the newspaper indicated that 92.5% of those questioned “didn’t want shops to try to sell them mince pies before November”, though 7.5%  “would like every day to be Christmas”.

Similarly, Roger Mosey, the BBC’s “Director of London 2012” responsible for the corporation’s coverage of both the Games and the “Cultural Olympiad”, has acknowledged in his blog “Taking the nation’s temperature on 2012” that “people are not yet dancing in the streets” about the occasion. Despite (or possibly because of) the barrage of publicity emanating from LCOG (The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) since the capital beat Paris by 54 votes to 50 at the IOC (International Olympic Committee) meeting in Singapore on 6th July 2005, only 9%  (according to Mosey) are saying they are “very excited” about London 2012” with 25% “fairly excited”, 20% “not particularly excited” and 23% “not excited at all”. Around 30% of the BBC’s audience will be “following closely news about the Olympics” but 33% say they have “no interest at this stage”. Moreover, it’s the south of England (rather than Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) “which appears to be somewhat tepid”, though he does expect the figures to change “as we get closer to the Games”. The World Travel Market (WTM) 2011 Industry Report – released to coincide with their annual event in London’s Excel Centre from 7th-10th November – has reached a similar conclusion. There is, it asserts, “ a lack of interest” among UK people in arranging their holidays around the Games. Only 8% will do so, while 86% will take their summer break as usual (50% abroad, 36% in Britain) and 6% “will be looking to avoid the Olympics altogether by leaving the country”. The WTM survey also reveals that – due to the squeeze on household budgets – a “massive 38%” of the UK population hasn’t taken a holiday (which it defines as at least “seven nights away”) at all in 2011 and almost 59% have restricted themselves to just one.  In the UK commercial sector, “only 33% believe the Olympics will be positive for their business”, 49% anticipate there will be no difference and 17% fear the impact will be negative. The “Euromonitor International” organization, also present at WTM, has more optimistically forecast that  next year the UK will experience a 4% boom in overseas arrivals (“29.4 million with additional tourists from the key markets of Spain, USA, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and Poland”) – although “ a dip is expected in 2013” – and that “domestic trips to London will  increase for 2012 to just below 13 million”.

These predictions are in marked contrast to the press release published on 6th November by ETOA (The European Tour Operators Association), which declared that London is likely “to suffer a 95% leisure tourism slump during the Olympic Games”. The downturn, it asserts, “looks like being extremely severe in July and August, where operators are currently seeing a 60% shortfall in bookings”. It’s perception is that there is almost no demand from “regular tourists” to visit London during the Olympic period and that because the capital is “the gateway for the rest of the UK”, £3.5 billion of business will be lost to the British economy during those two key summer months: “The problem for the tourist industry is that, even if London does fill with Olympic enthusiasts, they won’t shop, sightsee or attend the theatre”. The Economist magazine, in its edition of November 12th, commented that the drawback with the marketing campaign aimed at luring “hordes of visitors to Britain” using the slogan “ You’re invited” is that they might be deterred by the assumption that the capital will be “expensive and chock-a-bloc with sports fans” and thus not come here at all in 2012.

LOCOG is, nonetheless, adamant on its website that “thousands of people are already inspired by London 2012” and that the Games “are coming to life across the UK”. It has had to cope, though, with a flurry of recent media stories which have rather dented public enthusiasm for the Olympics. The bonus of £1200 awarded to London’s tube drivers for the duration of the Games and the proposal by the capital’s taxi drivers to charge night-time rates during the day over the same period provoked columnist Sebastian Shakespeare in the London Evening Standard on 31st October to declare that the Olympics “have become a tawdry, money-grabbing spectacle” instead of a cause for celebration. The same publication has also criticised LOCOG for agreeing to pay the congestion zone charges (amounting to more than £250,000) for the “2,000 BMW limousines” which will be conveying the IOC “dignitaries” (staying in 5-star hotels at the taxpayers’ expense) around London – a “hypocritical reversal” of the pledge to provide the “greenest Games ever”. The Guardian is not impressed by LOCOG’s refusal to disclose the cost of the planned 8000-mile Olympic torch relay around the UK and “The Times” has highlighted the plight of Olympic ticket holders “left in limbo” after changes to the rules regarding refunds and the resale of unwanted seats.

The World Travel Market 2011 has been hailed by WTM as a “resounding success”. Attendance on the first day was “up 8%” compared to 2010 with almost 23,000 participants. At his press conference on the second day (November 8th), however, WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council ) President David Scowsill, acknowledged that previous estimates for the growth in world travel and tourism would have to be revised downwards, from 4.5% to 3.2% (2011) and from 5.1% to 3.3% (2012) due to “prevailing economic conditions”, social upheavals in North Africa and natural disasters such as the tsunami in Japan. Two exceptions to this trend are South-East Asia: 6.4% in 2011 (up 1.3%), 7.5% anticipated for 2012;  Latin America: 5.2% (2011) and 6.1% for (2012). The importance of tourism as a leading factor in Colombia’s “economic and social transformation over the last decade” was emphasized by the country’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, at a WTTC conference in Bogota on November 3rd. Looking much further ahead, WTTC expects that by 2030 there will be 1.8 billion tourists moving around the globe. Meanwhile, there is now an alternative accommodation arrangement available for sports enthusiasts living outside London or abroad who are keen to attend the Olympics, unwilling (or unable) to pay exorbitant hotel prices but happy to pitch their tent on a stranger’s lawn: “”, founded by out-of-work chartered surveyor Vicky Webbon in April 2011. “Suzie’s place”, for example, has a 100- foot garden with a fishpond and is 9 miles from the Olympic stadium. Capacity: 8 tents. Cost: £8 per person per night. “Daisycat”s garden is only 5 miles distance and has space for 4 tents. She charges £15 per person per night and offers “access to bathroom facilities”. But only until 9am, which is when she goes off to work.






Filed under: Society, Sports | Posted on November 15th, 2011 by Colin D Gordon

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