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London Olympics: Letdown or Bargain?

Travel Insider blogger David Rowell reports that bookings for the London Olympics have turned out to be much lower than the advance hype led the local hotels and tour operators to believe. This is no surprise to long-time Olympics-watchers: My recollection is that demand from international visitors has fallen below forecasts for at least half of the recent Games. According to Rowell, tour operators are discounting heavily in order to avoid further loss. If you’ve been waiting for a price break, now might be a good time to check again. As of July 6, for example, Thomas Cook posted a bunch of deals like “Save up to 50% off 2012 London Olympic tickets & Hotels” on its British website. 

Even if you can get a good price, however, visiting the London Olympics may still be a hassle. London’s Heathrow Airport is experiencing horrendous lines and waiting times up to two-and-a-half hours in the immigration process. Rowell recommends flying to Brussels or Paris and taking the Chunnel train to England, but you can probably avoid the worst crunch by flying directly into Birmingham (just over one hour from Birmingham Airport station to London by train) or Manchester. And even if you get through immigration easily, other visitor facilities and services will likely be both expensive and crowded.

My recommendation remains: Avoid London this summer and watch the games on TV: You’ll see more and avoid lots of aggravation.

A little schadenfreude is probably justified here. None of us has any sympathy for hotels that set up short-term gouge rates only to find no takers.

Ironically, however, the inflated visitor forecast hype has already achieved one of its objectives. For as long as I can remember, Olympics host cities have used puffed-up visitor forecasts to support infrastructure improvements that would ordinarily not justify the funding. So even if the inflated forecasts leave a few hoteliers unhappy, Londoners and visitors alike will enjoy the new and upgraded venues and transport facilities for many years to come.

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