Need a vacation? Head to London, where the Games are driving tourists away

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

It takes one trip to a European capital in August to realize that most of the locals have closed shop and headed to the beach.

The eighth month of the year has traditionally served as the time EU urbanites vacate their cities and go on their own holidays, leaving places like Paris, Madrid and Rome to the swarms of international tourists with cameras and maps in tow.

Factor in an Olympics and you'd expect those numbers to reach record highs.

But as the Globe and Mail reports, London is experiencing a veritable tourism drought.

Aside from the 100,000 spectators who poured in for the Games, visitors who would normally be filling the British capital's hotel rooms have taken their travelers cheques elsewhere, perhaps fearing a crush of sports fans.

"It may go against intuition, but having the Olympics arrive in town has made London a completely different place in every possible sense," Bernard Donoghue of London's Association of Leading Visitor Attractions told the Globe.

"The central London attractions such as the London Zoo, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum are all seeing attendance figures down 30 to 35 per cent last week compared to the same week last year. As a result there are no queues and tickets are easy to get."

Also empty? The famed West End theatres, Covent Gardens, Leicester Square and reams of other now-lonely cultural landmarks.

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Hotels that had anticipated a full house have had to slash prices in order to fill beds.

Four-star digs in the posh Bloomsbury neighbourhood have been selling off occupancy for less than £170 ($265) — while still unaffordable for most, a significant cut from their original £270 ($421) rate.

And now is as good a time as ever to sample some of London's renowned international cuisine.

The food and beverage industry (well, those not catering the Games) has seen dismal sales this week.

"There has been a marked fall in restaurant bookings … London restaurants have seen a double-digit fall in takings, sometimes considerably more," Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, told the paper.

Those enjoying the extra space? Locals.

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The Montreal Gazette reports that traffic volume is down by 20 per cent, allowing central Londoners accustomed to gridlock the unusual sensation of getting to work in less than an hour.

Also benefitting are cyclists, who have been flying down streets they'd normally have to weave through slowly.

So what has been driving this mass exodus?

Chalk it up to Olympics optimism — the idea that the hosting city will rake in massive sums thanks to the multitudes the Games will attract.

Except the reality nearly always falls short. The Globe notes that Sydney's projected 132,000 tourists ended up in the 97,000-range.

Even more disappointingly, Athens organizers anticipated 105,000 hotel guests each night and had to make do with a paltry 14,000.

In almost every case, the Games failed to boost tourism numbers in subsequent years — even in Vancouver.

Which means this week is probably your best shot at visiting London without fighting your way through endless lineups.

And while hosting the Games would certainly bring great pride and prestige to the city, it also means Toronto's 2024 bid dreams may need to take into account any potential economic losses generated by a similar scenario.