With Jubilee Done, VisitBritain Prepares for Olympics

2012 is halfway over, and now that Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee is over (a great if somewhat rainy success, judging from the social media response), Britain is looking ahead to the Olympics. The opening ceremonies are a little more than a month away, so we checked in with Carl Walsh, regional director of travel trade and business tourism (Americas) at VisitBritain to see how the nation was getting ready.

“Between the Diamond Jubilee and this summer’s Olympic Games, the eyes of the world are on Britain, and we are doing our best to showcase our country at its very best,” he said, acknowledging that the events are “like global TV advertisements for Britain.” 

The Numbers
While it is too early to see how Britain’s visitor numbers increased over the Jubilee weekend, Walsh says that there were many international visitors along the Thames, at the Big Lunch and the Epsom Derby. The most recent month for which numbers are available is April, which Walsh says set a new record, with overall visits reaching 2.9 million (a 10 percent increase compared to April 2011) and a total spend of $2.1 billion, 10 percent higher than April 2011. North American visits totaled 270,000, a 5 percent increase over April 2011

Booking Trends

While there haven’t been many surprises in terms of booking trends, Walsh says that people are “being creative” when it comes to finding accommodation for the Games. “There are still rooms available in London, but we’ve also been encouraging travelers to consider cities like Brighton, Cambridge or Oxford that are just a one hour train ride from London and provide you with an opportunity to experience more of the country,” he says. “Even Cardiff, Wales, is only an hour-and-a-half direct train ride into the city. This is a great option giving people a chance to explore more of Britain.”

But rooms in London’s city center are still available. Walsh performed a quick online search for a room for two from July 26 – August 2, and found several options in central London with hotel rooms starting just over $200 per night. “Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton Hotel has rooms starting at $304 per night and Hilton London Euston has rooms starting at $312 per night,” he says.

Hotel alternatives will also be popular during the Olympic period, he predicts. OneFineStay.com lets travelers live like locals and offers upscale accommodation across London, starting from about $200 per night over the Olympic period. One Fine Stay even lends an iPhone to all guests, with tips on the local area from the home’s owners.
Luxury accommodations are also available, he adds: Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living has studio apartments during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games available (as of press time, of course). Best of all: The five-bedroom penthouse comes with the use of a self-drive Aston Martin during the guest’s stay.

Looking Ahead
While the Olympics will bring thousands of new visitors to London (and other destinations throughout Britain as well), the nation will, of course, have to think in the long run beyond 2012 and keep visitor numbers up (if not necessarily as high as July’s are expected to be).

The Olympic Delivery Authority has invested more than $777 million in infrastructure to develop and deliver transport facilities needed for the Games, Walsh says, which will also support the community after 2012. The Games will leave the UK and London with new platforms, elevators, and railway trains and bigger stations for commuters. “These physical assets will help to provide improved accessibility, more capacity at stations, better connections and more frequent services,” he adds.

In addition, Britain’s first urban cable car, the aptly named Emirates Air Line, is set to open June 28.  The cable car will make a half-mile crossing over the Thames between Greenwich and the Royal Docks, giving visitors a view of Olympic Park, the Canary Wharf financial center and the Thames Barrier.

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