The Olympic pay-off is tomorrow not today

A lot has been made in the first week of London 2012 that the economic pay-off for London hasn’t materialised. Theatres are empty, hotels deserted and so on.

The reality is that the pay-off from the Olympic Games for London and the UK as a whole won’t happen during the Games. It won’t even happen immediately after the Games. The economic pay-off will be delivered in the years to come with increases in tourism and more business for British companies. Think two decades rather than two weeks.

At previous games, tourism has fallen during the event. London is actually doing much better - especially in the midst of a global downturn. Visitor figures for the first five months of the year have been good - the numbers of holiday visitors to the UK are up 7 per cent.

The Olympic Games has a proven track record - forgive the pun - in changing perceptions of countries and bringing tourists in.

The Games will attract more tourists for years to come. Think of the power of the equestrian events being held with the magnificent backdrop of Greenwich. Think of the cycling road races through the British countryside. Think of the old meeting the contemporary with the beach volleyball on Horseguards. All of this is a wonderful ad for British tourism.

The Olympics focuses the world’s attention for a very brief moment on a single city and the culture and character of the host nation. London’s opening ceremony set the tone. TV viewers see energy, creativity, humour, music, and beautiful scenery. Thanks to the Olympic Games, they will come and visit.

And it works. Barcelona was a stunning beneficiary of the Olympic effect after the 1992 Games. It was transformed from a city with an indifferent reputation to one of the world’s great cities. The number of tourists visiting Barcelona doubled in a decade, the number of conventions held there tripled.

Similarly, Sydney was re-invented in front of our eyes. “The Olympic Games are the best thing that has ever happened to Australia’s tourism industry,” concluded its tourism chief.

Of course, some Games have failed to reap the big benefits - think of Atlanta and Athens.

Success demands long-term commitment. And plainly the Olympics is about more than tourism. It provides and brings in business. LOCOG has pumped more than 6 billion into the UK economy. Around 97% of its work has gone to UK-based businesses.

The regeneration around the Olympic site deserves a gold medal of its. We have been hearing about it for years and perhaps that is why many people seem to accept rather than celebrating what has been achieved.

The Games has been the catalyst for the single biggest transformation in London in more than a century. Just think about how many thousands of people have been visiting a site in East London which was a wasteland a few years ago. Think about the transformation of the Lower Lea Valley. Urban planners estimate that the regeneration would normally have taken up to 20 years to achieve. This is the biggest Olympic regeneration project ever undertaken.

Hosting the Olympics is an expensive path to self-esteem. But if it is correctly managed it is one of the most cost effective, powerful and rewarding things a nation can do. After week one, but with an eye to the future, London seems to have got it right.

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