|Scenic Regent’s Park will be one of the many sites adapted for the 2012 Olympics.|
Trying to book travel for the Olympics in any city can be a daunting task, but when the city is London, it can become downright overwhelming. Travel Agent talked to some specialists in the industry about what agents need to know about accommodations, events and places to visit.
Jonathan Epstein of Celebrated Experiences says that the situation is changing rapidly from month to month and that rooms are available in the city for the Games. “I now have inventory at a varied collection of London city-centre four- and five-star hotels…in neighborhoods, including Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Kensington, and near Buckingham Palace...and the prices are very reasonable. [I’m] very impressed by the values!” For those keen on a longer stay, he suggests booking apartments, which can have an extra advantage for agents: “People are prepaying even though they know it’s nonrefundable,” he says.
Hotels, on the other hand, are more complicated. Many of them have made deals with the International Olympic Committee, or are working on an exclusive-use basis. In January 2012, however, the IOC will release rooms it has not already booked, making plenty of space available. Kier Matthews, vice president of travel industry sales at Europe Express, says his company is in negotiations with some notable chains to make rooms available for clients.
Chris Foy, head of VisitBritain’s 2012 Games Unit, says there are plenty of hotel options in the city, with an increase of 20,000 rooms over five years. “It’s booming at the moment,” he says. “People who want to book now have options.”
In the Country
Epstein also recommends looking at hotels outside of London from where clients can take the commuter trains to the city. “There are lots of country hotels by train stations,” he says, and draws a New York analogy: If the Olympics were held in downtown Manhattan, people would stay upstate in Great Neck or in New Jersey and take the train into town. Matthews agrees: “People are looking for flat-out accommodations, and they are willing to go outside the city…but not too far.”
There is an added benefit to looking outside of the city center: Several Olympic events will take place outside of London, and guests staying near these locations will have easier access. The rowing events, for example, will be held at Eton, near Windsor, where visitors can also see Windsor Castle and Eton College. The sailing competitions will be at Weymouth, on the south coast of England, which is also home to the Jurassic Coast, with lots of dinosaur fossils. Mountain biking will be held in Essex, to the east of London, and whitewater canoeing in Hertfordshire, about 20 minutes north of London.
For out-of-town hotels, Epstein recommends country-house estates like Pennyhill Park and Great Fosters in Surrey. (Great Fosters is about 11 miles, or a 30-minute drive, from Dorney Lake, the venue for Rowing, Paralympic Rowing and Canoe Sprint events.) Both are less than a 30-minute drive from Heathrow Airport, and Alexander House, in Sussex, is close to Gatwick. If clients want a unique experience, they can stay in dorm rooms at Cambridge University, about 50 minutes outside of town by train.
“You have so much more you can do in Britain around the Games,” Foy says. “It’s so easy to go from London to Scotland or Wales.” He points out that 2012 will also be the Queen’s Jubilee and that there will be a yearlong cultural festival in connection with the Olympics.
“Here’s what people need to do,” Matthews says. “If they are serious, secure their Games tickets.” Tickets are available from www.cosport.com. “If they have tickets, then finding accommodation won’t be that difficult. Even if the IOC waits until the last minute to release rooms, it won’t be an issue.”