Last weekend the Olympic Park saw the crowds flood back for the Anniversary Games and the Open East Festival. A year after the London 2012 Olympics, the questions are being asked: what was the real legacy of the Games? How has it affected visitors and visitor attractions in the capital? Has it really had the hoped-for lasting impact on sport and on London’s travel and tourism trade?
Exactly a year after the dazzling London 2012 Olympics, the newly-named Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened its gates once more last weekend, to welcome back excited visitors to the Anniversary Games and the Open East Festival. The thirst for more was undeniable – tickets to the two day games sold out in just 75 minutes earlier in the year. This was a chance to relive some of the thrilling action of London 2012, to get a first chance at experiencing the atmosphere if you missed out on tickets last year, and to see how the park is progressing and developing before its complete transformation is finished.
The Olympic Stadium recaptured the buzz of year ago, helped by the presence of stars such as Mo Farah, Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis-Hill and world-class athletics. Bolt and Farah did not disappoint, both storming over the finish line in their typical unbeatable style, while the injured Ennis-Hill was thoroughly encouraged by the supportive crowd.
In the rest of the park, the Open East Festival, commissioned by the Barbican, Create London and the London Legacy Development Corporation, filled the vast area with live entertainment, including stages for music performances, theatre productions, dance shows and everything in between. The Real Food Festival area packed in endless stalls offering every type of international freshly-cooked food imaginable and included a tent for live cookery demonstrations from famous chefs. A shopping bazaar, magical children’s entertainment world near the velodrome, large screen to watch the athletics happening in the stadium nearby and a huge inflatable bouncy castle Stonehenge from Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller were just some of the other things to do and see. The 560 acres of park, paths, bridges and rivers were well used, with pop-up performances and stalls occupying every corner.
The deja-vu buzz was unmistakeable, but has the Olympics had any tangible effect on London and visitors to the capital in the intervening twelve months? New data just released from Hotels.com indicates that the UK is continuing to enjoy a surge in interest from international visitors. The demand for hotels is growing across all cities that hosted Olympic events last year, with visitors from Russia, Hungary and New Zealand among those most interested in visiting Great Britain. Searches for hotels in specifically London have seen a 53% rise from Japanese tourists, a 76% rise from German travellers, and a huge 81% increase by Hungarian visitors; significant since both Germany and Hungary did exceptionally well at the London 2012 Olympics (ranking sixth and ninth in the medal tables respectively). Other UK cities seeing incredible increases in interest include Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow. “Britain’s Olympic legacy stretches far beyond London. Cities across the UK are benefiting from renewed interest from tourists worldwide, as visitors see the UK in a new light,” said Alison Couper at Hotels.com. “Investments made to improve tourist attractions and modernise accommodation ahead of last year’s Games should ensure that the UK remains a world-class tourist destination for many years to come. A year in the spotlight helped the UK to achieve one of its best years for tourism in 2012, according to VisitBritain, so it’s great to see that this is continuing. The Olympic Games showcased a modern and multicultural image of the UK, and visitors now recognise that there is more to Britain than London. This legacy is driving tourists to look beyond the capital. This change could provide a welcome boost to local economies as new jobs are created to meet growing demand from international visitors.” International visitor numbers to London were up 1.1% in 2012, with spend in London increasing by 7%.
As tourism figures for 2012 were good, and hotel searches are up so significantly this year, what about actual visitors to the UK for 2013 so far? It seems the Olympic legacy really is paying off. A record number of tourists from overseas visited London in the first quarter of 2013, according to the latest International Passenger Survey figures. 3.4 million visitors came to London in the first three months of this year, a 4.2% boost on the same period last year. Expenditure over the same period reached £2.1billion, a significant 11.5% increase compared with the first quarter of last year. Mayor of London Boris Johnson welcomed the news, saying: “Last year saw the best sights and scenes of the capital beamed to audiences of billions around the globe, helping to promote this city as an unbeatable holiday destination. These latest figures are a welcome indication of how London has benefited from this exposure and from its world-class offer for tourists.”
Julie Chappell, Director of Consumer Marketing and Digital Channels at London & Partners, said: “To have increased expenditure and visitor numbers during the winter, our quietest tourism period, shows that London is still a hugely popular destination for tourists and that the capital is still benefiting from a post-Olympic bounce.” The announcement of the International Passenger Survey figures follows on from news from the London Attractions Monitor, which has seen a 13.8% increase in attendance at London’s tourist attractions in the period March to May 2013. Attendance at the 33 attractions surveyed (including the British Museum, London Eye, National Gallery, Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral) increased by 22% in May, a big rise after an 0.7% increase in April and an equally outstanding 22% rise in March.
Tourism and visitor numbers aside, it was hoped that the 2012 Olympics would also inspire young and old to take up sport. With concerns over rising obesity levels, inactivity in the young technology-focused generation and a general decline in sport participation, various bodies have introduced initiatives to encourage Britain’s population to take up sport.
GTW recommends stadium tours as a great way to get more involved and inspire a love of sport, hopefully leading to taking part. These two London-based tours are great for both tourists from overseas and for UK visitors.
Chelsea Football Club, Stamford Bridge
This tour takes guests on a fascinating journey behind the scenes at one of the world’s greatest football stadiums. Passionate tour guides provide insights into Stamford Bridge’s illustrious past and Chelsea’s bright future, giving access to areas normally reserved for players and officials. Tours can be combined with a visit to the Chelsea FC Museum, which offers visitors an unforgettable interactive tour of the club’s successes and an opportunity to have photos taken with both the Champions League and Europa League trophies.
Info: 0871 984 1955 www.chelseafc.com/stadium-tours
Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, White Hart Lane – FAM TRIP
GTOs, do you fancy trying out a stadium tour before committing to a group booking? GTW and Tottenham Hotspur are offering you an exclusive fam trip stadium tour!
Greeted by two professional stadium tour guides, the fam trip tour will follow the same route as the main public tour. This means that you will experience exactly what your group will experience. You’ll learn all about the history of Tottenham Hotspur and take in areas behind the scenes, including the press auditorium, tunnel, dressing rooms and pitchside. Following the tour there will be refreshments to allow you some time to speak with the stadium tours team specifically about the needs of your group and to ask any questions you may have.
This fam trip will take place at 11.30am on Friday 6th September.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to secure a place – numbers are limited, so book your spot now!
After all that hard work taking part in sport – or spectating, at least – London has thousands of restaurants to choose from. Where to start? Here are two that again are perfect for visitors from home or abroad.
Planet Hollywood, the world’s only dining experience inspired by the glamour of Hollywood, is one of London’s most well-known restaurants and is located in Haymarket just off Piccadilly. They are able to accommodate groups of up to 300 people for lunch, dinner and late-night dining. Planet Hollywood has four themed areas as well as the bar, of which showcase movie memorabilia. 18 screens throughout play music videos and movie trailers, giving all visitors the full Planet Hollywood experience.
Groups no matter the occasion all receive a warm welcome, including special touches such as welcome messages for the group and personal messages for any group member celebrating a birthday or anniversary. The food is delicious and service is efficient and helpful. Planet Hollywood also has a fully stocked merchandise shop offering a variety of souvenirs, t-shirts, baseball caps and jackets, with a 20% discount on all merchandise purchased by groups. There is step-free access, accessible toilet facilities and complimentary wi-fi.
Info: 020 7024 8455 email@example.com www.planethollywoodlondon.com
Hard Rock Café – Harley Denham reports
Hard Rock Café, located on Old Park Lane in London, offers a great group experience for visitors from the UK and abroad. Arriving on a sunny Friday afternoon, the outdoor seating seemed the best place to sit, overlooking the street and Green Park and soaking up London’s busy atmosphere.
Hard Rock Cafe has a unique ambience; a busy bar, classic rock music playing, hosts dressed in black leather. The staff are energetic, helpful and can smoothly guide groups to the appropriate seating area and will ensure you have a great time. Our waitress was very helpful and keen to explain the history of the restaurant and juicy gossip about the celebrities that had sat in my seat previously. The manager explained that staff undergo training to bring out their personality in the job, and they clearly enjoy what they do which then has an effect on customers. We met Paul; after he and his wife retired, they moved to London and both began working at Hard Rock three times a week, just because they love it!
The London restaurant was the start of the Hard Rock chain back in 1971, and it includes lots of famous memorabilia, including Eric Clapton’s guitar, Madonna’s bustier, John Lennon’s glasses and much more. These items are on clear display in the restaurant, which adds to its heritage rock theme.
The menu offers a range of classic options; legendary burgers, large combos to share, salads and special group packages too, which can also be found on their website. I went with our waitress’s recommendation of a pulled chicken sandwich, which was delicious, with very tender meat. I had trouble finishing the huge portion, especially as we had shared a large combo as a starter!
A few steps away from the café, the Hard Rock retail shop sells branded t-shirts, jumpers, hats and plenty more to suit all pockets and tastes.