Shopping districts in the city such as Oxford Street and Westfield’s White City mall in West London are usually shoulder to shoulder with people out to spend their cash but this week they look not dissimilar to scenes from apocalyptic film 28 Days later.
Londoners, expecting transport chaos this week as the Olympics hit, have had a relatively easy time of it. Most prepared to wrestle with tourists for space on tubes, buses and trains but the transport system has remained under control and nowhere near as busy as expected.
I’ve heard more than once that the population of London has actually decreased since the start of the Olympics as the mass-exodus of Londoners outnumbers the influx of tourists.
People have heeded warnings to stay away, and take alternative routes and avoid the busiest parts of town. Kudos to the transport network, it has so far managing to avoid any major hiccups having a serious effect on travel to and from the Games.
However, it’s now being blamed for its warnings working too well, scaremongering and keeping people away from central London hot spots.
Transport for London can’t win on this issue. Imagine the finger pointing had its marketing and communications strategy around the Games not been so thorough.
Hotels have slashed their rates as rooms stand empty, restaurants are reporting a sharp drop in diners and retailers are desperate to welcome tourists through the doors.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also insisted that businesses that have “marketed effectively” around the Games are seeing a big boost to business while Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has cried out that the City of London is “open for business”, but it seems as though it’s very much contained to East London at present.
Visitors to East London increased 22% on Sunday compared to the previous week, while footfall dropped 11% in central London according to Experian’s latest footfall figures. Compared with the same weekend a year ago, footfall is up 12% in East London, but down the same amount in West London.
Shopping centre operator Westfield launched a social media campaign earlier in the summer pitting its East and West London malls against each other. While its Stratford mall is seeing the vast majority of Olympic visitors come through its doors and seeing 40,000 more shoppers than expected, perhaps Westfield should spare a a thought for its mall in West London.
The too-quiet streets of London are calling for some action.
TfL’s Get Ahead of the Games campaign is now tweeting encouragement for tourists to stay and enjoy London and its pubs, restaurants and shops, as well as travel updates, but if retailers want more visitors, they must take the initiative and launch tactical campaigns using press and social media to get people off bums and into the wider city.
A burst of activity to encourage tourists and Londoners alike to head across town would at least serve to remind people that there is life outside of Stratford, and that they will be pleasantly surprised at the lack of crowds elsewhere.
Hunt also urged London retailers to think about the impact of the Games as an opportunity for PR, publicity and marketing in the long-term, not just during the weeks of the Games.
He said this morning: “London is already one of the world’s great cities, but these Games have made it iconic and if you have a business in London, in the years to come you are going to benefit massively from the huge amount of publicity, PR, promotion and marketing that you get from having a Games in London.”