Greed and the Olympics: will London learn the hard way?

Time for realistic thinking?

The pattern has been nothing if not consistent in the last few decades. Cities that spent millions (more recently billions) in their preparations to hold the Olympic Games found to their cost that their estimates of a tourism bonanza proved way off the mark. Thousands of hotel rooms remained unoccupied while those who did come shunned the ludicrously high prices for food and transport wherever they could.

Crazy Olympic Hotel Rates

Not to be deterred by previous evidence, London officials are still boldly predicting a bumper summer. Hotels are certainly preparing to make the most of the expected Olympic cash frenzy. You can bag a room at the Crowne Plaza at London Docklands in early July for £108 a night. Book the same room in early August and it will set you back £480. The Holiday Inn Express at Swiss Cottage normally charges a reasonable £68 a night; visit during the Olympics and you’re looking at £359 a night. Yes, that’s right: over £350 for a night in a Holiday Inn Express. There’s demand management and there’s outright greed borne of fanciful predictions. It would be cheaper to stay in Paris and travel in each day by Eurostar than to pay these rates.

The ‘people will pay anything’ mentality extends to taxis and will no doubt cover many restaurants who are expected to roll out their ‘Olympic menus’ over the summer, charging customers special rates to help them commemorate the big event. I strongly suspect this approach will hurt London not only in the numbers who are deterred from visiting in 2012 but also by the negative publicity that such greed will bring to the city. London cannot afford to have the world thinking it is even more expensive that its current reputation suggests.

Grounds for Optimism?

There is much talk about the overall effect of the Olympics on London. Visit Britain and the Mayor of London are unsurprisingly positive, predicting a huge celebration that will paint London and the UK in the best possible light. It is striking that the official language in recent weeks has shifted from talking about a great boost for London in 2012 to the more hopeful (wishful?) line about a long-term Olympic legacy.

At this week’s CIMTIG Question Time a panel of travel industry experts were asked for their views on the effect of the Olympics on UK tourism. It was broadly acknowledged that the number of overseas this year would see a drop, although the general feeling was positive about the long-term benefits of the Games to London.

Positive feeling is good; we wouldn’t bother to get up out of bed without it. But that optimism needs to be set against the £9 billion (or more, depending which source you believe) that will be spent by the time the Closing Ceremony brings the London Olympics to a close. Talk of a long-term legacy is of little interest to those businesses who are hoping to cash in on the massive tourism spike predicted earlier. How will a long-term legacy be quantified in monetary terms? Will we now be hoping that extra visitors come to London  in 2013 and beyond just because of the remaining Olympic infrastructure? The evidence in Sydney, Athens and Beijing doesn’t offer much hope here.

Welcome to London 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Those hotels charging sensible rates for the Olympic period will already be full. Avoiding the temptation of charging rip-off prices for transport and food will help promote the feel-good factor that should accompany the open-air parties and celebrations throughout the Olympic period. This in turn will provide the positive message that London and the UK is so desperate to give to the world. Is it achievable? Without a doubt. Will it happen? Based on current evidence I’m not optimistic.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

8 Responses to “Greed and the Olympics: will London learn the hard way?”

  1. Good and timely post Andy. This is exactly what happened pricewise with hotels last May in central London during the Champions League final. Basically hotels tripled in value through various foul and sneaky tricks like minimum stays. Hotels that you couldn’t swing a cat in, and you wouldn’t put a family member you liked in.

    It’s basically cheating your guests, lying as to how good your hotel is, untransparent, a nonsense, a national embarrasment, but hey – that’s the free market. Except it’s not. People should be hiding their heads in shame. Cept the won’t.

    February 2, 2012 at 7:54 pm
  2. Bon #

    Great article Andy – Sadly, I think you might be right on the money…

    February 3, 2012 at 2:06 am
  3. This does have me wondering what has been the history POST Olympic mania in other host venues? Lots of food for thought w/this post.

    February 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm
  4. helen #

    very true article andy… another way for greedy hotels trying to make a quick buck … when will people learn to actually look for a bargain or are we the fools you pay and shut up????

    February 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm
  5. Great story. I can’t believe that the HOLIDAY INN is going to be charging over 300 pounds a night!? That’s insane. London needs to realise that people aren’t going to be prepared to get ripped-off. Taxis are convenient, but if they charge too much, people will simply use a combination of the Tube and Google Maps. Restaurants charging too much? That’ll drive more business to Tesco Express than anything else!

    You’re totally right when you say London doesn’t need anything else to add to its reputation as being one of the most expensive cities to travel in in the world. As a Brit, I can take a flight to Prague and back and stay there more cheaply, rather than take a train (more expensive than the plane!) and stay in London. Who knows what it’ll be like come August…

    February 7, 2012 at 8:48 am
  6. I attended the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and I thought getting tickets to the events would be the hardest/most expensive part. Boy was I wrong. Accommodations were by far the most punishing. The cheapest accommodation in the city of Vancouver that I could find was $100 a night for someone offering up the back of his subaru outback as a bed. I ended up staying in a hotel 2 hours away and driving in each day.

    February 10, 2012 at 2:30 am
    • Thanks John. I think you’ve touched on something that many people around London are thinking too. That they can rent out anything, even a patch of their garden for someone with a tent, and make a fortune for doing so. Yet a couple of hours on a train here can have you in Manchester or Paris.
      I really hope people are not so dim as to pay £360 for a budget hotel room during the Olympics. I would hate to see those greedy hotel chains cashing in on their cynical tactics.

      February 12, 2012 at 10:43 am
  7. Sadly, I agree with you Andy. I bet the Eurostar and Virgin Trains rail tickets will be at their maximum prices as well. Airlines normally set prices at sky high prices when events like this are taking place.
    Better to watch it on the TV and come and visit after all the fuss has died down.

    Arriving in Montreal after sleeping on Greyhound buses for two nights in a row, I headed for the Olympic swimming pool for a shower and a swim after seeing it on the Olympics 3 years before, so there is some sort of long term benefit from hosting these events.

    March 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm