The Washington Post has visited London shopkeepers to see how they’re benefiting from the Olympic rush, and the early results aren’t promising:
“We employed more staff because we were told millions of people were coming to London,” said Siu, 54, the manager of the Melanie Italian Restaurant, around the corner from the Palace Theater, which is staging the musical “Singin’ in the Rain.” “Now we’ve realized it’s not getting busy, and we’ll have to give them notice.”
The problem, according to the Post: Sports fans are spending lots of money in the areas around the Olympic venues, but nobody’s venturing out into the rest of London, leaving business dead there. And with non-Olympic tourists steering clear of the city and many Londoners heading out of town or working from home to avoid the crush of Games visitors, museums and theaters have been left largely empty.
None of this should be surprising to anyone who’s read the findings of economist Phil Porter (aka Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Washington-Post-Article), who’s repeatedly found that mega-events like the Olympics don’t create much of an increase in consumer spending, because new visitors just displace other tourists.This is especially true of a city like London, which already has no trouble filling its hotels in the summer, and doesn’t exactly need the Olympics to put itself on the tourist map.
The Post does note that Athens and Beijing (though not Sydney) saw summer visitors decline the years they hosted the Games. Still, London Olympic committe CEO Paul Deighton insists that long term, “given the images of London that are being sent around the world from the opening ceremony, the torch relay and these events, it will be a huge economic boost to the capital.” If future summers see hordes of confused tourists wandering about and saying, “Where’s that torch relay we saw on TV? Oh, never mind, let’s just pop into this nice Tate Modern place,” then we’ll know it was all worth it.