Olympics: Are Games ‘a disaster’ for London businesses

At Oxford Circus, where tourists, office workers and shoppers usually battle for space on the pavement, the streets have been noticeably quieter than usual.

Ahmed WaqasAhmed Waqas, who runs a souvenir stall nearby, had ordered extra stock and planned to work longer hours to take advantage of the expected Olympic business boom – but has already given up any hope of extra sales.

Ahmed, 27, says: “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.”

Easy journeys

At Selfridges, there are plenty of customers, but still fewer than might be expected at this time of year.

One employee can be overheard telling a customer: “Everyone’s either in Stratford, or the Londoners who usually shop here have gone away until the Olympics are over.”

Mia BrownSelfridges said in a statement that the last week had been “quieter than normal”.

“As expected, there has been a reduction in visitors to the West End since the Olympics began, which has had some impact on our footfall too.”

Data collected by research group Experian seems to support this – it said the number of people going to stores in east London on Monday and Tuesday was 9.6% lower than a year ago, while footfall in west London fell by 4.5%. It said: “We think this is as a result of people mainly going to the shopping centre adjacent to the Olympic Park.”

But while London 2012 may have been a headache for some businesses, for some commuters and sports fans it has dramatically improved life in the capital.

Mia Brown, 23, who works in one of the big department stores, says: “I travel in to work every day from Streatham in south London. I thought I would have to get up early to get in on time but my journey has been so much easier since the Olympics started.”

Graham and Lesley Carson, from Oxford, are staying in the city for the duration of the Games and plan to attend as many events as possible.

Lesley, 48, says: “Normally if you come to London you expect Oxford Street to be overcrowded but it’s empty – it’s so civilised.

“Everything’s running so well, it feels like they’ve transported the Disney experience to London. The organisers have done us proud.”

Businesses ‘complacent’

Her husband Graham, 47, says city centre businesses have no-one to blame but themselves.

He says: “If they thought the business was just going to fall into their lap, they were being complacent.

Graham and Lesley“If you are out at the Olympic venues, all the local businesses have entertainment or big screens – there is a real buzz.

“None of the businesses up and down Oxford Street are offering anything to try and bring people in.”

Transport for London said the number of Tube journeys was up by a small margin from an average 3m weekday trips normally expected in the summer, while Docklands Light Railway (DLR) journeys had gone up significantly.

TFL said: “The public transport system remains busy with Tube journeys up by 10.5% on Tuesday and record DLR ridership on Monday, up 65% on what would be expected at this time of year.

“Journeys to stations serving the West End on Monday remained at the same levels seen this time last year.”

At Piccadilly Circus, dozens of young tourists are gathered at the foot of the fountain – but the traffic is flowing freely.

Strange feel

The vast Cool Britannia souvenir shop seems to be doing a roaring trade, but supervisor Rajees Chundavida, 30, says they would expect to be busier.

He says: “We were doing OK in June and the first half of July but we are slightly down for the last week or so.

Rajees Chundavida“We would normally do very well from tourists coming in to central London on coach tours, but they just haven’t been turning up since the Olympics started.

“I think the tour companies listened to all the warnings about terrible traffic in the city and decided not to come here, but there are no bad traffic jams.”

But a spokesperson for Games organisers Locog insisted London was “open for business” and was “breaking all records for foreign guests staying in hotels”.

“In the long term, the aim is to attract more visitors to experience the capital in 2013 and beyond – to harness the additional long-term tourism benefits that we estimated to be in the region of over £950m over the next five years.

“It is not unusual for host cities to experience some displacement at Games time, with transport busy at unusual times across the network and retail footfall and spend in uncommon areas.”

And some tourists are simply bemused by talk of a “deserted” London.

Cheryl and Barbara Anderson timed their trip from Montreal, Canada, to coincide with the Games, even though they have not managed to get tickets.

Cheryl, 51, says: “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.”

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