Fears of a slump in visitor numbers to London before during and after the 2012 Olympics have prompted VisitLondon to launch a marketing campaign to reassure potential travellers that the main tourist attractions will not be disrupted by sporting events.
Limited Edition London is intended to signal to visitors that, with a total of 120,000 bedrooms in the capital by 2012, there will be plenty of hotel space available for them as well as Olympic spectators.
The initiative was announced by the marketing director of VisitLondon, Martine Ainsworth-Wells, at a seminar held by the European Tour Operators' Association to discuss the projected number of visitors expected in the capital during 2012.
Delegates were told that while Oxford Economics predict that nearly 380,000 foreign visitors are expected to visit London during the Olympics, the experience of previous host cities indicated that in reality this number will not be reached.
In 2000, Sydney anticipated 132,000 visitors and received only 97,000 during their games, Athens (2004) hoped for 105,000 per night, but achieved fewer than 14,000, while Beijing (2008) expected more than 400,000 and received 235,000 for the whole month of August.
There is concern that a similar situation will arise in London, with potential visitors put off from travelling to the city - and other UK destinations - by the fear of crowds, disruptions, lack of hotel space and high prices.
Jennifer Keen, founder of Total Revenue Solutions, a company which supports hotels in revenue management practices, said historically host cities had experienced a drop in demand during the 18 months prior to the games. "London hoteliers need to put in place a good revenue strategy to deal with the big dips in demand which are expected," she said.
"There is a danger that hotels will fail to maximise capacity for the full year owing to over-focusing on the Olympics. While it is important to enjoy the moment, hoteliers shouldn't forget the business that could come before and after the games."
Ainsworth-Wells said that London was the first Olympic host city to recognise that predicted visitor figures had not previously been realised and therefore was in a position to ensure this did not happen in 2012.
"Our job is to spend taxpayers' money wisely and spend it in markets which are likely to bring visitors to London," she said, explaining that Limited Edition London was a multimedia consumer campaign which will be rolled out to long-haul destinations in September 2011, followed by campaigns in Europe and the UK.
"We are asking the industry to start creating a product of special packages, including dining and spa offers, which will be available for tourists in the run-up, during and after the Olympics.
"Let us do what no other host city has done and make the Olympics a gain for everyone, beyond the 18 days of the event itself."
David Rushton, director of UK field sales, global and national sales, UK and Ireland, for Accor, said the company was already aggressively marketing its hotels, including 25 in London and a total of 144 across the UK, for the whole of 2012.
"We are working with 12 major tourist wholesale companies which are targeting the leisure market, as well as hoping to attract long-stay business during the Olympics from corporate sponsors, the media and the police," Rushton said. "This is to fill bedrooms over and above the 80% allocation we have with LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) in our 15 hotels in east London."
<span class=""noindex"">By Janet Harmer
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