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Travel & Holiday

To London when games are over

With Olympic games in July, some Singaporeans are avoiding the British capital for their holidays
The Straits Times - April 3, 2012
By: Annabeth Leow and Kenneth Goh
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To London when games are over -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS

London would seem to be the destination of choice this summer, what with Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the Olympic Games in July.

But these hot headline events have left Singaporeans cold. In fact, the large numbers of expected tourists as well as the accompanying rise in costs are actually turning Singaporeans off London, according to four tour agencies Life! spoke to.

While there has been a slight uptick in interest in London as a destination, many customers are preferring to make their bookings for the pre- and post-Games period instead or to visit other parts of Britain and Europe.

At Trafalgar Tours, all 25 of its London packages still have vacancies, even the cheapest, a one-week tour of London priced at US$835 (S$1,050) exclusive of airfare.

Regional director Nicholas Lim, 36, said that despite a 21 per cent increase in June bookings involving trips to London, 'travellers who would normally opt for our pan-European itineraries that start and end in London have decided to avoid London completely. Instead, they have chosen to commence their trip from other European cities.'

Similarly, demand for London at Insight Vacations is only a modest 5 per cent more than last year's. Its regular one-week London package, which will run throughout June, is US$1,185 (S$1,485) and still has vacancies.

Even with a special corporate package which will include tickets to either the Games' opening or closing ceremony, CTC Travel is experiencing a 50 per cent drop in June to September bookings when compared to the same period last year.

Travel to London tends to be popular in June, said a spokesman for Chan Brothers Travel because families with younger children can travel only during the long school holidays in June and December. Of these two months, June is the more popular because of its warmer weather.

Chan Brothers reports a 20 per cent dip in June tours, which it attributed to the possibility that travellers fear tourist numbers 'could be too overwhelming in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics'. Its London trips are typically bundled with visits to neighbouring Paris and other parts of Europe.

Rising hotel rates are another deterrent. Although the Games begin only on July 27, June will still see a crowd in London, especially with travellers expected to visit the Games facilities and preparations in progress.

Mr Lim said that prices will be '50 to 80 per cent higher than other months of the year' for the summer holiday season, with the price hike starting in May, running through the full month of June and peaking in July.

A room at London's three-star Norfolk Towers Paddington Hotel, which would normally cost $259 for a night, could cost as much as $400 towards the end of June, and $439 during the Games period.

But while some popular hotels have jacked up their prices, a spokesman for hotel bookings website HotelClub says that cheap lodging remains available. For example, the suburban Church Street Hotel is offering a single room for $181 in June.

Graphic designer Stacy Tan, 23, is one Singaporean who has decided against venturing near London in June.

She leaves tomorrow for a one-week stay in the city. She plans to do the usual tourist circuit of the city's museums, musicals, and places of interest such as Big Ben and was put off by the prospect of facing a crush closer to the Jubilee and Olympic season.

She said: 'I think it's best to go now to avoid the crowd especially since London is already so packed. I can't imagine what it will be like later in the year when people from all over the world head there for the Games and other events, and in the summer heat, at that.'

Leaving earlier also means she pays just $2,800 for a package that includes airfare, hotel stay and city tours.

CTC Travel's senior vice-president Alicia Seah said that a similar package in late June could cost about $4,600 - a 60 per cent price difference.

But for those still dithering over whether to go, there are last-minute deals still to be had. Although demand for tickets has been 'pretty healthy', a spokesman for Singapore Airlines said that tickets are still available for travellers in June, with economy prices starting from $1,636 for a one-way flight.

British Airways unveiled a special promotion on its website yesterday, with fares as low as S$1,378 for summer bookings made before the end of this month.

If anyone is still keen on joining the tourist fray in the city in June, then the advice from travel industry veterans is to book early. Accommodation, air tickets and even tour packages are still available, but expect them to be increasingly scarce - and expensive - as June draws near.

Another option is to stay outside the London city centre or even outside Greater London in neighbouring counties such as Surrey and Kent which are linked to the capital by rail.

Or you could delay your visit till the post-Olympic season from September onwards. By then, visitors can also enjoy looking at Games venues which will be converted into tourist attractions. Based on experiences with the 2008 Beijing Games, travel agents are expecting a 20 per cent increase in visitorship then.

London will still be bustling with tourists, said Ms Seah, but the prices will have dipped and the worst of the crowds will have eased.

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