The Olympics were expected to bring huge crowds to London, over-burdening the roads and transit system, and providing a boost to the city’s businesses. But the crowds have not materialized, leaving many businesses with fewer customers than they would have during a normal summer season.
The street performers at London’s Covent Garden can still draw a crowd. But in the middle of the summer tourist season, those crowds are smaller than usual.
And the nearby market seems almost empty compared to the throngs that usually make it difficult just to walk around.
Longtime vendors say warnings about traffic and crowds have worked too well, scaring non-Olympics visitors away and convincing many Londoners to go on vacation.
“We all thought we were going to be increasing during the Olympic period. There’s been a decrease. Yeah, a bit disappointing so far. We’ll see what happens next week,” said jeweler Gary Holder,
“They’re coming to see the Olympics. They’re going to the Games, enjoying the games. But I don’t think they’re coming to Covent Garden to shop,” said vendor Sarah Swales. She said her profits from last week to this week were “like half the profit, so it’s drastically dropped, yeah.”
And it’s not just Covent Garden that is suffering. All the businesses that depend on tourism are in unexpected Olympics doldrums. Around London’s West End, hotels, restaurants and shops report that sales are down from their normal level, and sharply down from expectations for the Olympics summer. The taxi drivers’ association head calls London a “ghost town.”
Theater managers won’t even talk to reporters about the situation. Owners say business is down as much as 30 percent, and on one recent evening only a handful of people were waiting to buy tickets, even at half-price.
But at Covent Garden, Charlie Chaplin tramp impersonator Diego Spano was as accepting of life’s setbacks as his character is. “I carry on with my show, making people laugh around the world. So, some days it’s bad, some days it’s good. This week was bad here, but I don’t care, to be honest,” he said.
Officials still hope the publicity generated by the Olympics will help the economy of London, and all of Britain, in the long term. But for now, the support of the relatively few but hugely appreciative visitors will have to suffice.
(Olympic events still draw healthy crowds, as for this road cycling race on the streets of London. Photo: Stuart Chalmers/flickr.com)