You’ve probably read the stories. The Olympic and Paralympic Games this year are going to be just dire for tourism. Apparently. And the West End of London will be a ghost town, with many theatres simply putting up the shutters for the duration because there is, quite simply, no demand for tickets while the games are going on. Apparently.
Or maybe you’ve read the other stories. The ones that feature a survey reported in The Sunday Times showing that the price of hotel rooms in London will ‘quadruple during the Olympic Games’. Then there’s the survey in The Sunday Telegraph saying that ‘retailers in central London will enjoy a significant increase in turnover this year, thanks to the Olympics etc.’ So you pays your money (at the newsagent) and you takes your choice, as Mark Twain wrote in Huckleberry Finn in 1884.*
James Bond backs Britain
So who can you believe? What will actually happen this summer? The answer is as unsurprising as it is unsettling: we don’t know. And how could we? Yes, there’s a certain amount of evidence based on what happened with other Olympic host cities, but when something only happens every four years, and does so on different continents, in different hemispheres and in wildly different political and economic climates each time, then reliable and consistent data becomes tricky to find. The important thing is to take precautions and do what you can to ensure that the glass-half-empty brigade is proved wrong. So, as mentioned here a few months ago, we’ve put together an advertising campaign which will promote the UK as a place to come this year and the posters and ads will be starting to appear in the next few weeks. There’ll be tie-in with New York Fashion Week and the Oscars, images from the campaign will be projected onto Sugarloaf Mountain outside Rio and a there’ll be a strong presence at the Delhi Conclave, a March conference for the top 1,000 opinion formers in Indian business, politics, culture and sport. This is all good and impressive stuff, with a host of big-ticket British brands chipping in and a full team of Brit celebrities and internationally-recognisable figures doing their bit as ambassadors. The DCMS press notice about this lists Vivienne Westwood, Richard Branson, Paul Smith, Denise Lewis and James Bond in this latter category. I’m not entirely sure what they’re getting at with that last name, but such are the creative types involved and the overall buzz around all this, that bringing a fictional character* from a book into life can’t be that hard.
Tourism boost on all fronts
Fortunately, all of this will be playing into rising market and this, too, will make the selling job easier. This is supported by new data on visitor numbers to Britain (pdf, 1.16MB) which shows that total visits to Britain are nicely placed at the moment with the total in the first 11 months of 2011, a handy three per cent up on the same period in 2010. And while they were here they spent six per cent more than those who came here the year before too. And on the home front, VisitEngland has just published material on domestic tourism trips which also bodes well.
Or does it? Yet another survey – this time from Thomas Cook who may, we have to concede, not be entirely impartial observers – appears to reveal that, in the words of The Daily Mirror: ‘jetting off abroad can work out cheaper for families than staying in expensive Blighty.’ All this is based on comparing the cost of a three-star hotel in Majorca with ‘three-star accommodation’ in North Devon, and a comparative price check for ‘holiday essentials’ including cigarettes, wine and bottled beer. They’ve also been a touch selective in the countries chosen to be surveyed. Four of the top six overseas destinations for Brits are not surveyed so, as the paper says (with unintended irony, I imagine) ‘with a bit of savvy budgeting and clever destination choice, a sunshine break could be affordable.’ Indeed.
The Best B&B in the World
More positively, a survey from TripAdvisor (that’s enough surveys – Ed) brings the welcome news, as reported in The Independent that ‘six of the top ten bed and breakfasts across the globe are in England, and two in Scotland with the only serious foreign competition coming from Tuscany and Peru.’ Three cheers for those B&Bs, with the loudest cheer going to the ‘Twenty One’, an establishment in Brighton which the proprietors, Matt Fletcher and Andy Cole, have taken to number one in the world.
To be honest, they sound like a class act: meeting and greeting all their guests, listening to and acting on their comments, and even providing complimentary Tunnock’s teacakes for everyone. And, yes, the methodology for this survey is very much from the Thomas Cook school of data gathering, but Matt and Andy have come top thanks to putting the customer first, and you’d need a heart of flint not to congratulate them for that.
*Though he wasn’t necessarily the first one to do so. The New York Times reports that a cartoon in Punch in 1846 entitled ‘The Ministerial Crisis’ has a showman telling a customer, ”Which ever you please, my little dear. You pays your money, and you takes your choice.”
**Apparently ‘James Bond’ in this context is the brand, rather than the (fictional) character or the actor who plays him. It’ll all make sense nearer the time, I imagine.
Image of logo courtesy Twenty One bed and breakfast, Brighton