Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Hunt backs Games business 'gift'

Fears have been expressed that London has turned into a 'ghost town' during the Olympics
Fears have been expressed that London has turned into a 'ghost town' during the Olympics

Having the Olympic Games in London is "the best possible gift you could ask for" if you run a tourism business, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

The Cabinet minister said people needed to take a longer-term view after claims that the 2012 Games have turned the capital into a "ghost town", with commuters and non-Olympic tourists avoiding the city.

After figures showed that footfall in the theatre-land and shopping focal point of the West End was down almost 5% and mayor Boris Johnson admitted that the Games were having a "patchy" impact on some businesses, Mr Hunt said that the Olympics had given the city a global "cachet" that would boost long-term tourism.

"I think we have to take a slightly longer-term view on this - if you have a business in London, particularly a tourism business - a theatre or restaurant or hotel - then having the Olympics in London is the best possible gift you could ask for because that has given London a profile on a global stage," he said.

"London is already a well-known city, it has become absolutely iconic because of these Games and that opening ceremony has given London a cachet that makes people really want to be here and come here. We have a plan to get four million additional tourists here over the next four years. It may be a bit up and down over the next few weeks but it is going to be terrific for London businesses."

Transport for London has abandoned recorded warnings from Mayor Boris Johnson about expected congestion, blamed by some businesses for scaring people away from the city centre. The mayor insisted that businesses which had engaged with the Games were prospering, saying: "What's happening is people are having a great time and those who are looking to engage with the Games are doing great business."

But figures from Experian suggested that footfall was down 9.6% in east London stores and 4.53% in the West End compared to last year on Monday and Tuesday this week.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association said cab drivers had been hit hard, with business down by around 20%-40%.

Mr Johnson rejected suggestions that the Olympics had turned London into a ghost town, empty of shoppers and theatre-goers.

"I don't think we should necessarily accept that. If you look at what's happened around the venues, they are all rammed with people," said the mayor. "And hotels, for instance, have twice as much occupancy as any previous Olympic city."

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