Londoners had braced for the worst this Olympic year. The capital, usually heaving with tourists over the summer months, is not especially forgiving to those looking for a spontaneous evening out, with theaters and restaurants often booked up days and weeks in advance. And the situation was expected to be even more dismal with the London Games. But in the end, the maddening Olympic crowds have yet to materialize, making London a land of opportunity — for both local and tourist alike.
With only 100,000 foreign visitors expected over the next few weeks, compared to the usual 300,000, the capital will offer plenty of discounts as businesses scramble to make up the lost numbers at hotels, restaurants, theaters and gyms.
Hosting the Summer Games was supposed to bring in an additional $20 billion in economic activity, but the tourist industry hasn’t seen it yet, with some areas of London resembling a ghost town. Part of the problem is that no one knew quite what to expect over these few weeks, and firms have suffered as a result. “We’re bleeding, darling,” Nica Burns, chief executive of Nimax Theatres, told the Financial Times.
Others are more interested in putting a positive spin on it. The Dutch boutique hotel chain citizenM opened its first London branch, close to the Tate Modern, in July. While the hotel’s focus on the well-traveled has meant that it has not offered any Olympic-related discounts, it has recognized the need to do something about the elephant in the room, as well as the need to capture the Olympic audience. “It would be very stupid not to do anything related with the Olympics,” says Robin Chadha, its chief marketing officer and co-founder of the brand. “London is such a dynamic city — we asked ourselves what we could do to make our hotel relevant during that period, how we can capture that.” The result, citizenM Reports, is a platform for “citizen journalists” to document collectively the goings-on in London on its microsite — “everything but sport” as its tagline goes. It’s also holding a series of talks and workshops, including one on alternative London street sports.
For citizenM, however, this is a marathon and not a sprint. The impact of the Olympics over the next fortnight is not so important as the goal to establish a base with customers likely to return, unlike, of course, the typical Olympic visitor. For the well-established hotels in London, it’s a different picture. Lastminute.com, the website offering deals and discounts on everything from hotels to spa days, has reported “Olympic fever” and described the hotel availability during the Games as “relatively healthy.” Hotel rates have been cut by up to almost a fifth, with many customers paying an average of just $131.64 for four-star London hotels.
It may only be temporary blessing, but there are many deals to be had in London’s Theatreland as well. Francis Hellyer, the managing director of londontheatredirect.com, says, “The last few days have been unique. We’re taking 50% less bookings than we were this time last year, but there are lots of last-minute deals available. Our website has the largest list of discounts we’ve had at any one time.” Even shows like Chariots of Fire, which could be expected to do well given its sporting theme, is offering discounted tickets.
Hellyer was also keen to point out theater and dinner options, with some tickets giving theatergoers a free three-course meal. Like Theatreland and the high-end hotels, restaurants too have been affected. Celebrity hangouts like The Ivy are notoriously difficult to get into, but check online, or call on the day, and getting a table for 8 p.m. is not unlikely. Caprice Holdings, which owns The Ivy and J Sheekey, are keen to portray the image of business as usual: “Our regular, loyal customers are also very much still booking and dining with us during the Olympic period,” says Jo James, director of sales and marketing for the group. Nevertheless, it’s offering nearly a 50% discount during its prime-time after-theater spot: steak frites and a glass of wine for $31.35 from 10:15 p.m. onward. Opening hours have also been extended in many of its restaurants.
For Londoners and visitors alike, it’s a win-win situation. With museums and art galleries also reporting a 30% to 35% attendance drop during this period, London’s finest attractions can be enjoyed in relative quiet. The capital may still be abuzz with Olympic fever, but for those who’ve missed out on Olympic tickets and are wishing to take advantage of the many deals around, London is still open for business.