The prospect of a busy London Olympics and high room rates has prompted a 95% slump in inbound leisure tourism bookings to London in 2012, according to a survey by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA).
It warned that £3.5b of business could be lost to the British economy as a whole if the UK as a whole suffered an equivalent decline.
The ETOA canvassed 38 operators who move more than two million people annually to London, which revealed expectations of a significant downturn throughout 2012.
It said the downturn would be "extremely severe" in July and August, where operators are currently seeing a 60% shortfall in bookings for London, becoming acute in the during the period of the Olympic Games where bookings are running at 95% below normal. Bookings for the rest of the year are running at 20% below this time last year.
Tom Jenkins, executive director of ETOA said: "This is still very early in the booking cycle and only reflects what our normal leisure customers are doing. We always see a decline in demand for a destination during an Olympic year. Clients tend to think that a city has priorities other than being a place to visit for a normal holiday, so some of this was to be expected. But this tendency is becoming absolute as the hotel rates climb in July and August. During the Olympic period itself there is almost no demand from regular tourists. For foreign visitors there is near total displacement by the Games."
John Boulding, president of tour operator Insight Vacations, said: "One of the main reasons for the drop is that the hotels believe that they are going to be full, London appears to have priced itself out of the market in July and August. Insight has won a Queen's Award for Export but we have had no choice but to remove London from our best-selling European ‘Panorama' tours in July and August. Each one will start and finish on the continent."
The figures do not take into account bookings for corporate business nor people coming for the Olympics, but ETOA said bookings for London would have to "strengthen enormously" to make up the shortfall, with 125,000 hotel rooms to fill. Foreign Olympic visitors averaged no more than 25,000 people per night in Athens.
It is not the first time that the ETOA has warned about the potential detrimental effect on tourism of the Olympics, although the claims were rejected by VisitLondon, now London & Partners, at the time.
By Neil Gerrard
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