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London: Are prices for Olympics lodgings, airfares coming down?

July 26, 2012|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • Paul Woodham runs past the Olympic rings as he carries the Olympic flame at Kew Gardens in Richmond, London, on Tuesday. The Games are set to begin Friday.
Paul Woodham runs past the Olympic rings as he carries the Olympic flame… (Andrew Cowie / AFP/Getty…)

So you set aside a potful of money so you could travel to London for the Olympics? It now appears the pot may not have to be as large.

Hotels are available and less expensive, perhaps, than feared, and airfares also have declined for an August visit, a surprise for a summer trip in any year, never mind a trip during the Olympics, which begin Friday.

As is often the case with the Games, people sometimes will defer travel to the host city. “People are staying away from London because of the Olympics,” said Vicky Voll, president and owner of the Glendale office of Travel Leaders. Voll doesn’t have any clients going to the British capital this summer, she said — and that’s unusual.

Even more unusual are some of the hotel prices we’re now seeing. You probably won’t find any bargains in the luxury category; Claridge’s, the Connaught and the Landmark were going for $918, $1,132 and $1,409, respectively, for an Aug. 3-13 stay, according to metasearch engine That is per night.

But other hotels, especially those by the airports, fall into the reasonable range, Olympics or not. My yardstick for hotel rates is the per diem allowed for government employees traveling to London. The current allowable hotel room rate is $319 a day.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the Church Street Hotel, where I stayed in May, for about $155 a night, is still charging, for the sample Aug. 3-13, $155 a night. (The hotel is in Camberwell Green, a bit of a trek into the city by bus but doable.)

Voll was surprised to find hotel rooms in London as well when she looked Wednesday afternoon: The Thistle Kensington, a midlevel hotel, was showing in the mid-200s, she said. The Holiday Inn was about $325 to $400. On Kayak, I found the Best Western Shaftesbury Paddington Court for $159 a night. I also found hotels by the airports — Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow — at reasonable prices and with good availability.

Some of these may be leftovers: hotels that aren’t necessarily traveler favorites. Others may be rooms that were blocked off for ticket holders that have now been released.

As for airfares, which were running as high was $1,500 from LAX to London’s Heathrow earlier this year, on Thursday Kayak I found a United-Air Canada ticket for $1,307 for Aug. 3-13. What makes this remarkable is the short booking window (nine days) and the fact that you’d be there for the middle to the end of the Olympics.

You can always wait and go to London after the Games (and the Paralympics, which run Aug. 29 to Sept. 9), and if you do that, you’ll find much lower fares. Choosing dates at random, I found, through Kayak, a United $866 round-trip fare from LAX to Heathrow for Sept. 9-19, although by the time you read this Thursday morning, this fare may no longer be available.

As many downsides as there are to the Olympics — the crowds, the issues with security, the costs — there are some upsides, one of which is showing a destination at its most appealing and on its best behavior. Take the 2002 Winter Games, of which Salt Lake City and environs were host, including Park City, a premier destination.

Millions of TV viewers saw the ski town, some anew, some for the first time. In the years since, it has added new, high-end hotels (including the Montage Deer Valley, Hyatt Escala, St. Regis Deer Valley and Waldorf Astoria) and restaurants. From 2002 to 2005, its first-quarter visitor totals grew by almost 150,000.

But the Games aren’t a panacea. Plenty of Olympics host cities have found that the event and even the aftermath aren’t enough to help them catch fire as a destination or boost their visitor numbers.

Not that London needs help as a destination. But it has invested a significant amount of money and manpower in these Games for what is benignly called the “largest logistical exercise in peacetime.” What advice does Park City have for its much larger, more cosmopolitan sister under the Olympics skin?

“Park City’s focus was on the long-term benefits of the Games as opposed to short-term,” said Bill Malone, president and chief executive of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. “Park City researched several former host cities prior to the 2002 Winter Games and made a deliberate effort to educate the business community on having reasonable expectations of the benefits of the Games themselves.”

The town also knew that guests’ “perception and experience would be crucial in forming Park City’s reputation globally.” London doesn’t need to form a global reputation, but re-forming its rep as a hugely expensive place to visit? There’s a concept.

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