Dire warnings about the logistical problems proceeding from the staging of the Olympics and Paralympics in a congested city like London are doing the rounds in the press at the moment. The Department for Transport’s claim is that London 2012 will provide “the most accessible Games ever” and huge efforts have been made to improve public access to the events, with new rail links, provision of walking and cycling paths and so on. However the DfT has already published some startling facts and figures about what will happen during the Games, claiming that “up to 500,000 spectators each day are expected to travel across London for the… sporting events, plus 170,000 workforce and 55,000 members of the Games Family.“
Most controversial of all the preparations is the Olympic Route Network which consists of a set of roads linking key competition and non-competition venues within and around London. These are intended to provide “safe, reliable journeys for athletes and other members of the Games Family while keeping London and the rest of the UK moving”. The roads within this network were designated as early as 2009, and the DfT has put maps online which set out exactly where they are. http://bit.ly/oK4GYu
These fast lane access routes have had numerous detractors in the Press, most notably Simon Jenkins, whose polemic in the Evening Standard http://bit.ly/pgs906 raises the spectre of an inner London network of some 60 miles of roads being kept free for the Olympic athletes, officials, and VIPs, enabling them to whizz past Londoners foaming at the mouth in traffic jams. And he has a point: nothing infuriates Londoners more after a hard day’s work than to take 2 hours getting home instead of 1.
So will the Olympic and Paralympic Games strike a wrong note right from the start for the indigenous population? That partly depends on whether the optimistic forecasts for a money-spinning influx of tourists to London 2012 actually happens. And there are doubts about this, particularly since the publication of a report by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) which suggests that there may be a fall of up to 50% in visitor numbers in London during the Games, the effect also being felt in Britain as a whole. The report is here: http://bit.ly/rucM9j
The question of the net result on tourism of an Olympic Games has long been a topic of discussion amongst academics. Claims are commonly made for a rapid influx of visitors during and after the Games thanks to the world-wide exposure that a city receives at Games time, with Barcelona being held up as an example. However, things are often not as straightforward as this. Sometimes the Games act as a disincentive, with potential tourists being put off by the prospect of all the commotion. From London’s point of view, do we actually need more tourists, and can we accommodate them?
These are the sort of dilemmas that every Olympic host city experiences. Only time will tell if the scare-mongering is justified.
Weed, Mike. Olympic tourism. Amsterdam; London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008.
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