LONDON, England (eTN) – Londoners suffered collective withdrawal symptoms when the Olympic Games ended on August 11 and are now hoping to recapture some of the drama and excitement when the Paralympics begin on August 29. This is a good time to reflect on what the Games achieved and whether this fervor can be replicated.
There is general agreement that London 2012 will be remembered as the “feel-good” Games, providing a break from reality, with bad news pushed off the front pages. The President of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, formally closed London 2012 by describing the event as the “happy and glorious Games.” There has been universal praise for Lord Sebastian Coe, who masterminded the London Games, and all those who contributed behind the scenes. The motivation and conduct of the champions: Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, and many more, have made them role models for a new generation of sports enthusiasts. Everyone has remarked on the goodwill and professionalism of the 70,000 volunteers and thousands of members of the British armed forces who stepped in to help after the company, G4S, contracted to ensure security, failed to deliver on its promises. Athletes and organizers agreed that the crowds deserved a special medal for their exuberance, good humor, and generosity towards the losers. Medal winners acknowledged that the passion of the crowds spurred them on to give their best.
The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular. Danny Boyle’s curtain-raiser was extravagant, colorful, and quirky. The closing ceremony was a massive after-show party promoting British pop music and fashion. There was wild applause when thousands of athletes entered the stadium relishing the chance to let their hair down after the years of dedication and sacrifice that went into preparing for the Games.
Sadly, the feel-good factor generated by the Games was not felt in the high street where business retailers reported a marked loss in earnings. A survey published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) showed that nearly one-third of retailers reported lower sales volumes this month than on August 11. In contrast, Mark di-Toro from VisitBritain paints an upbeat picture of the impact on tourism:
“It’s a great time visit Britain. There’s a festival spirit with lots to do and see – tickets are available for many of the top shows, queues are shorter at attractions, tables are easier to come by in popular restaurants, opening times for shops have been extended, and public transport is running late.”
According to Mark di-Toro, indications are that hotels in London were around 80% full during the Games. He said, “This compares well with August figures for last year, which was a very good year for visitor numbers to London. Happily, there is still some availability for visitors who want to come and join the party. Visitors will find value for money accommodation on the London & Partners Summer Discounts Offers site, visitlondon.com, and many hotel price comparison websites. Great deals and added-value offers for the whole of Britain are available on the great2012offers.com website.”
Mark di-Toro listed what VisitBritain and partners were doing to boost tourism.
– In the short term, London and Partners is running a “Late Summer Deals” campaign throughout the UK and Europe via their visitor app and visitlondon.com. This will be supported by a big digital push.
– VisitBritain is undertaking a PR push on attractions and shopping. It has created a dedicated section on the visitbritain.com home page highlighting London attractions, theatre, shopping, as well as the offers available on visitlondon.com, great2012deals.com, and the VisitBritain Shop. These will also be promoted via social media and to its database of consumers in Europe.
“With the eyes of the world on Britain in 2012, we have a fantastic opportunity to showcase everything that the country has to offer and market effectively to ensure that we finish the year strongly. We are working with airlines, tour operators, and hotels on a major campaign, which will launch as soon as the Games finish. We aim to build on the positive images of the Games seen round the world and to end the year on a high.”
In the long term, VisitBritain’s GREAT four year campaign – from 2011-2015 – aims to influence an extra 4.6 million people to choose to visit Britain. This is expected to bring an extra £2.3 billion to the economy.
Mark di-Toro says 2012 got off to a good start with a record number of holidaymakers visiting Britain during the first five months – 7% more than last year. He acknowledged that VisitBritain had always recognized that the London 2012 Games would present challenges as well as opportunities. “Host cities and countries usually experience a dip in tourism in the year of the Olympics, and it is our ambition to buck that trend.”
He said the Games had provided a great image boost: “The Opening Ceremony – with its humor, energy, and creativity – promoted our music scene and beautiful countryside. Glorious images of Greenwich Park, the Jurassic Coast at Weymouth, Horseguards Parade, and the Surrey Hills have been seen by millions of viewers around the world.”
Other countries seized on the presence in London of athletes and visitors from all over the world as an opportunity to promote their own cultures and attract tourists.
Japan hosted a program of events to coincide with the Olympics, titled “ARIGATO” to thank the world for its support after the earthquake and tsunami, which devastated the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan last year. Events included performances of Japanese dance and music, a talk on the traditional drink, sake, with free tastings. Visitors were able to try their hand at games such as ring toss and yo-yo fishing, which are common at festivals and fetes in Japan.
A video was screened to express “arigato,” meaning “thank you” in Japanese, in 83 languages. There were 163 countries and 43 international organizations that offered to help after the disaster. A photo exhibition showed progress made in reconstruction; handicrafts produced in the disaster-affected region were available for sale to raise money for the ongoing recovery program.
In an unprecedented move, the Chinese government commissioned contemporary art from across the world, particularly from China and the UK, for a groundbreaking Olympic exhibition, which was staged at the London Barbican Centre. The Creative Cities Collection was sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and supported by the Mayor of London, bringing together the work of more than 500 highly-regarded international artists.
To mark the opening of the exhibition, a VIP Grand Gala Ceremony was staged, featuring performances from internationally-acclaimed stage artists and musicians, including Lang Lang, the renowned Chinese pianist who performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert this year.
The Indian government and community groups joined forces to present music from different parts of the country. The free program, “Flavors of India,” introduced visitors to the colorful and graceful Bihu dance from Assam in northeast India, a state famous for its tea. Performed in spring, the Bihu dance captures the mood of the season as graceful young women in striking hand-woven “muga,” gold and red silk regional dress, gyrate sinuously to songs about love, passion, and the wonder of nature. The singers are accompanied by young men on drums, cymbals, and flutes. The group performing in London, led by Ranjit Gogoi, was one of the best known in Assam and had been flown over especially for the occasion.
Paralympics and Legacy
London, with its multicultural population, provides the perfect platform to showcase the diversity and culture of different parts of the world. The influx of people for the Olympics and now the Paralympics has added to this rich mix of influences. Thousands of flags and banners are being put up, hundreds of buses are being converted to make them suitable for the disabled, and new volunteer recruits are being put through their paces. Record ticket sales are expected, with many events already sold out. London is poised to welcome 4,200 athletes from 165 nations when the Paralympics begin. The Paralympic Games are intended to create a better world for disabled people, and the media is already full of inspiring stories about individual athletes who have overcome incredible odds to become world-class competitors. The challenge now is to build on the tremendous success and goodwill generated by the Olympics and the Paralympics and leave a lasting legacy to celebrate a modern new Britain.
PHOTO: Crowds begin to gather to view the Olympics closing ceremony on giant screens in Hyde Park