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Olympics Leave London Empty

Posted on the 03 August 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

London underground A tube train. Traffic chaos has largely been absent from London. Photocredit: Alex Kosev at Shutterstock

The background

Travel and the Olympics are two topics that have occupied the British mind over the last few months, with the expectation that the hordes of Olympics-goers descending onto the city would make any movement virtually impossible.

But so far, has it really been that bad? And have the British public been paying too much attention to these warnings – to the detriment of London businesses?

Already, London Mayor Boris Johnson’s stentorian warnings on London buses and the Tube to “Get ahead of the Games” have been removed, and some of the special Olympics-designated road lanes have been opened to other traffic. Nearly a week into the Games, on Friday, 3rd August, saw the first whiff of the expected travel chaos: The Central Line on the London Underground, a crucial transport link which leads to the Olympic Park at Stratford, was suspended because of signal failures on the first day of the track and field events, prompting huge queues.

But that’s the first sign of the prophesied disaster – were London officials a bit overzealous in their dooms-daying?

“It has been a disaster – it is so quiet, the tourists suddenly disappeared in the third week of July and they are not coming back. Our sales are down about 50% on last year. I blame hotels that put up their prices and scared people away,” said Ahmed Waqas, and Oxford Street trader, quoted on the BBC.

Apocalyptic warnings taken too seriously

London has practically become a ghost town, reported The Evening Standard, as commuters and non-Olympic tourists avoid the city. Prime Minister David Cameron has stepped in to say that the “threat of meltdown on the traffic system” has been avoided, and London is “open for business.” Businesses in the West End, reported the BBC, have been hit hard by the Olympics, with footfall down as non-Olympic tourists stay away, whilst those heading to Stratford shop in the Westfield Centre over there. Museums, theatres, taxi drivers and hotels have all seen a significant reduction in numbers. The “apocalyptic warnings,” said Laura Collins on The National, were taken “too seriously.” But now “the reality has dawned.” In some places, Olympic volunteers threaten to outnumber visitors.

It’s not that empty

Not everybody thinks that London’s empty. The BBC chatted to Cheryl and Barbara Anderson, who’d come from Montreal in Canada: “We saw on the news that traffic is supposed to be way down on normal and we thought, ‘wow, how bad must it be normally?’ But I suppose we don’t have anything to compare it to. And we thought the Tube trains were busy. We had no idea that it can be hard to get a seat.”

Visit London now!

Still, now hotels are slashing their rates, it may be the best time to come to London, said Yahoo News. The site pointed out that Olympic host cities never meet the visitor targets they expected – Athens was expecting 105,000 visitors per night – but ended up with 14,000. “Which means this week is probably your best shot at visiting London without fighting your way through endless lineups.” Tourist operators are looking at the projected long term boosts that the Olympics will bring – but then they would, wouldn’t they.

Watch Mayor of London Boris Johnson stuck on a zip wire!

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