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London Theaters Hurt by Decline in Tourism

More than 6 million seats were unsold in 2003 as 12% fewer Americans visited the British capital.

March 15, 2004|From Bloomberg News

London's theaters, home to productions such as "Les Miserables" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," barely increased revenue in 2003 as the number of tourists in the British capital fell for a third straight year.

Total sales from West End theaters rose 0.8% to $596.5 million, according to Society of London Theatre figures. Growth was 9.7% in 2002.

More than 6 million seats were unsold in 2003 as 12% fewer U.S. tourists visited London, deterred by war in Iraq and terrorism concerns. Performances by Hollywood stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow failed to draw locals put off by the hottest summer on record, ticket prices as high as $90 and shows that have run for more than a decade.

"London has been hit by a series of crises, which has dented tourism," said Sandra Elliot, deputy chief executive of Visit London. "The ongoing effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq had a huge effect on the number of American tourists coming to London, and the hot temperatures seemed to deter domestic visitors."

The number of unsold seats rose 8.9% from 2002, the society said on its website. The number of people attending theaters slipped 1.6% to 11.9 million and the average price of a ticket increased to $56.27 from $53.75.

Theaters are trying to counter falling ticket sales by selling seats months in advance of the show's opening night. Tickets for a stage production of Walt Disney Co.'s film "Mary Poppins," which doesn't open in the West End until December, went on sale at the end of January.

"It's a way of theaters trying to guarantee their income," said Peter Hepple, a consultant editor for Stage magazine

Visit London expects the number of tourists in London to increase 3.7% in 2004, and the capital's economy is forecast to grow 3.2% by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which raised its prediction March 9. Still, the British pound's 12% gain against the dollar in the last year will curb spending by tourists, Visit London Chief Executive David Campbell said.

London's economy had its worst slump in a decade last year as banks including Merrill Lynch & Co. and Credit Suisse Group shed staff.

The number of tourists from Britain and overseas visiting London fell 2.2% to 27.1 million in 2003, according to Visit London, which promotes the city. Of those, 11.95 million came from overseas, compared with 13.1 million in 2000. Overseas tourists buy 30% of all West End tickets.

"We sell most of our tickets to American tourists," said John Merton, a ticket agent at Conciergedesk Ltd. "Every American that's planning a trip to London wants to see at least one show, and they almost always pre-book the tickets."

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