LONDON — The Olympics hurt business in central London last week, as the usual summer visitors stayed away for fear of huge crowds. But the situation is much better in the Games’ second week.
The owners of theaters, restaurants and other businesses in central London were worried last week. They reported business being down by as much as 30 percent from what they would expect for this time of year.
It appears Olympics visitors were focused on the Games, not the city’s usual attractions. At the same time, other potential customers were staying away because of fears of huge crowds, based on government recommendations to avoid commuter trains and the city center during the Games. The result was that the transit system and businesses were relatively empty.
So early last week, the head of the Society of London Theater, Julian Bird, and other businesspeople had a conversation with the London Olympics Committee and transport officials.
“We in the theater community in conjunction with the retail community and others were able to say, ‘Come on, we need to change that messaging just a little bit on the transport,’ to make people realize they could come in, and it was safe and easy to do so,” Bird said.
Bird says the change in the publicity campaign worked and that business during Olympics Week Two is much better than during Week One.
“Attendances that week were not great. Let us not pretend. But now, they are right back up there. And this is what we have found from other Olympics cities that we have researched, that as the city gets ready, tourists are not in the town yet. And that is what happened in London. It was just very, very quiet. London is now full. I am very pleased to say that we have had some very, very good attendances, and very good figures,” Bird said.
London’s theater community is particularly proud to have several long-running musicals and a variety of plays on offer, with all of its theaters in use.
Actress Tamsin Greig is in rehearsals for a new play called "Jumpy" that opens next week, just after the Olympics. But she says the Games have affected her, as they have all Londoners.
“My tube [subway] journey has been interesting, getting across town when there are so many more bodies to navigate. I really want to help people. It has been really nice because you have to get involved. And also, the atmosphere in London is so infectious. There is something that is so alive about being here right now,” Greig said.
Bird says London’s experience proves that major events and regular businesses can coexist in a large city, although some patience might be required.