Games spark discount war to attract London visitors

By Jamie Elliott

Call it the Olympic effect. From the smartest of hotels to sought-after theatre tickets to the best restaurants, the London Games are providing summer bookers with unexpected bargains in one of the world's most expensive cities.

Hotels in London are paying the price for pushing up their room rates for the Games: bookings are down by 35 per cent after long-haul travel operators advised international visitors to go elsewhere.

Visitors can secure great bargains as hotels and theatres slash prices to compensate for a slump in bookings caused by the Olympics.

Rooms in central hotels can be obtained for as much as 30 per cent below the usual rates and tickets for some West End theatre hits are being offered at half price.

Many hotels inflated the price of rooms for the summer, with some setting rates at up to three times the normal level in anticipation of demand from Olympic visitors.

These inflated prices have had a devastating effect on advance bookings by long-haul tour operators, which bring visitors from countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, who have spurned London in favour of other European capitals.

A survey by the European Tour Operators' Association last November showed advance bookings for the Olympics period were down 90 per cent compared with last year.

"When the Olympics are on, normal tourists are scared away because cities are perceived as expensive and too difficult to deal with," said Tom Jenkins, executive director of the tour operators' association.

Hotel bookings in the capital are down 35 per cent in July and 30 per cent in August, according to the latest published figures from hotel room wholesaler JacTravel.

"Rates during the Games [July 27 to August 12] have recently been falling from very inflated levels," says JacTravel's director of online, Angela Skelly. "Rates after the Games are currently 15 to 20 per cent down on the same period last year."

The three-star Tudor Court hotel in Paddington, central London, has cut the price of its 38 rooms by an average of 33 per cent between August 12 and September 9. A double ensuite room for two, including breakfast, is available in this period for just £81 ($157) a night.

You can stay in the four-star Hilton Metropole, a stone's throw from Madame Tussauds and Regents Park, on a Friday and Saturday in August for £160 a night. In September, the identical room will cost you £238.

The cost of seeing a London show in July and August has also fallen, as bookings have slumped by 20 per cent or more, said Chris Ryan, director of marketing for Encore Tickets. Blockbuster shows such as Billy Elliot and Shrek The Musical are being heavily discounted.

And some of London's most exclusive restaurants such as celebrity hangout Le Caprice, Gordon Ramsay's Claridge's restaurant, have plenty of availability. There are even tables to be had at Heston Blumenthal's hugely popular Dinner.

- Observer

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