London 2012: Officials Expect Celebrities During Olympics, Most Tourists Afterwards

The Summer Games remain on track and under budget, with a top British tourism executive predicting that millions will visit after the sports event despite fears of rain.


LONDON - Preparations for the London 2012 Summer Olympics, which kick off in less than 10 days, remain on track and will come in at or below budget targets, key officials said here Wednesday.

They also highlighted that they hope to see billions of pounds in trade and business benefits over the coming years and that most tourism benefits will materialize not during, but following the Games, thanks in part to promotional help provided by such celebrities as Judy Dench, Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), David Beckham and Jamie Oliver and possible celebrities in the Olympic audience.

Government and organizing officials also shrugged off concerns about security preparations and costs and continuing bad weather in the British capital.

"It's not a huge event for international spectators," Sandie Dawe, CEO of tourism promotion organization Visit Britain, told reporters after a press conference, mentioning that only 1 million of 8.8 million total tickets to Olympics events were sold to an estimated 600,000 visitors from outside of the U.K. "The interesting thing for us is the showcase, the TV and digital coverage." And given that this will be the first social media Games, "the potential to share experiences is enormous," she argued.

During the press event, Dawe similarly said that "the bigger opportunity is the future," saying her team is aiming for 4.6 million additional visitors and £2.3 billion ($3.6 billion) in added spending over four years thanks to the Olympics.

"We want to put ourselves on the wish list of emerging countries," where the image of Britain is "sometimes vague or a bit one-dimensional." And the U.K. wants to also use the Games to remind visitors from the U.S. and other traditional visitor countries of its appeal and maybe highlight some of the "fun" factors beyond cultural heritage. "This will be the world's biggest party. We want people to see that side of Brits," which could prove "possibly transformational," Dawe said.

She pointed to the support from Dench and others for the "Great" campaign that has used films from celebrities and the tagline "We are Great (Britain)."

She told THR that she also expects various foreign celebrities to make it to the Games, but didn't have a list of names to share. "We do like to use celebrities, because they got such cut-through and global appeal," she said. "We have Judy Dench and Jamie Oliver. We check that they are well-known overseas and what markets they have resonance in. Those guys must want to do it, because we are not paying them. Boris Becker approached us because he said he is Britain's favorite German and he said the list isn't very long. And we have other foreign celebrities like Karan Johar who is a huge Bollywood producer."

Johar will also join her as her guest at the Olympics opening ceremony. Asked what Hollywood or other foreign celebrities people may see in the crowd, she said: "I don't know who is coming, but I think you will see a lot of big names. They also say the Olympics is the biggest gathering of CEOs in the world."

Still, even during the Games, London's hotels, which typically have a high occupancy rate of 82 percent, are expected to be "pretty much full," she said. Some regular tourists will be displaced during the Olympics, but for the full year, visitor figures should be unchanged with a strong last year of the four-year projected period, Dawe said.

Will the recent bad weather, including rain, spoil any tourism benefits if it continues during the Olympics? "People don't come here to lie on the beach," Dawe said. "That's not our offer." A temperate climate and cultural heritage are the main draws, she said before adding with a reference to weather forecasts: "And anyway, the sun will come out."

Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson, meanwhile, reiterated Wednesday that the public sector Olympics budget of £9.298 billion ($14.53 billion) currently has £476 million ($744 million) in contingency funds remaining. What will happen with the money that remains after the Games will be decided then, organizers said.

Meanwhile, the London organizing committee's budget of over £2 billion ($3.13 billion) is balanced, Robertson said.

Asked why filmmaker Danny Boyle's opening ceremony has been cut down in length, he said it was simply "a transport concern" to ensure that the city can get people back to Central London safely before trains and other public transportation closes.

Robertson was also asked about security concerns after security firm G4S said it needed help to provide enough personnel for the Games. "We're not going to spend a penny more" on the company out of the contingency budget and will "be activating the necessary penalty course" to get G4S to pay for government expenses due to its shortcomings, he said. The government will "make sure the taxpayer is not exposed to the failures of G4S," Robertson said.

Alan Collins, who has focused on the Olympics for the U.K. Trade and Investment organization, said while G4S has said it won't bid anymore on future Olympics contracts, "this doesn't in any way affect other British companies."

Collins said that while Games budgets were balanced or ahead of plan, the Olympics could yield £6 billion ($9.38 billion) in inward investment in the U.K. over four years.