Mon, Aug 13, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Golden Olympics boost evades struggling UK economy

ALL THAT GLITTERS:Despite huge public investment in the event, amid harsh austerity budgets, the Games have not provided the fiscal stimulus it was hoped they would

AFP, LONDON

The Olympic rings are seen on a barge on the River Thames with the London Skyline in the background during an electrical storm on July 29.

Photo: AFP

With the London Olympics set to wrap up yesterday, analysts said Britain’s recession-hit economy was unlikely to have won a major boost from the Games that have been a triumph for the nation’s athletes.

While the country’s construction sector benefited hugely before the Olympics, experts have said the 17-day sporting spectacle had not delivered significant financial rewards and neither was it expected to in the months and years ahead.

Mary Rance, chief executive of tourism body UKinbound, said the Olympics, which cost British taxpayers £9.3 billion (US$14.5 billion) to stage, have failed to lift her sector.

“From a positive perspective, the Olympics have been a catalyst for huge investment in infrastructure in London,” Rance said.

However, “all the signs are that the Olympics have not delivered additional visitors to London and the UK. In fact, it is expected that numbers may well end up having fallen by well over 30 percent,” she said.

Following claims in the first few days of the Games that they had turned London into a ghost town, British Prime Minister David Cameron urged people to “come back into the capital.”

His words seem to have made an impact, with retailers across London’s main shopping district in and around Oxford Street reporting an increase in sales and a higher footfall in the days after Cameron’s remarks.

In the run-up to the Olympics, which began on July 27, commuters and tourists were warned to stay away amid fears that London’s transport system could not cope with millions of extra people descending on the capital.

The Games had long been heralded as a boost to the UK economy, but industry body the European Tour Operators Association said tourist numbers had fallen “dramatically” in the Games’ first few days.

“Hotels have been cutting their prices and many shopping areas, restaurants, theaters, attractions and entertainment venues have seen a significant reduction in business,” Rance said. “Although it must be said that shopping centers like Westfield Stratford City, next to the Olympic Park, have benefited significantly — and over recent days visitors seem to be returning to central London.”

Businesses complained of being sidelined as tourists made a beeline for the Games and avoided the capital’s other attractions and shopping destinations, while non-sports fans opted to stay at home or delay their trips.

The Bank of England’s chief economist Spencer Dale last week said the Olympics would provide only “a small positive contribution” to the British economy.

“There may well be some extra spending from tourism, but as many of us know there has also been travel disruption, more people are going on holiday. So I think those effects are small, but the contribution from ticket sales and TV rights may lead to a very small boost to GDP in the third quarter,” he said

Britain’s Office for National Statistics has already said that Olympic tickets sold last year would be incorporated into GDP figures for the third quarter, despite the bulk having been paid for last year.

Asked about long-term benefits to the economy from the Olympics, Dale said: “Those type of effects are a lot harder to try and work out and I don’t think it will have a material impact in our projections.”

Analysts have said the Games could add 0.3 percentage points to British output in the third quarter, or July to September period.

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