London hotel rates crash, flights half full…

London’s St Pancras International station… where Eurostar trains depart for Brussels and Paris. Will it fill to the gills? See below for my outlook…. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Yesterday I received an interesting missive about London from the folks at Hotwire– the giant SF-based “opaque” booking site– you know, the kind of site that won’t reveal the name of the provider until you pay. It’s also the kind of site hoteliers flock to when they are desperate to unload unsold inventory at big last-minute discounts.

This is one of many signals we are getting that the Olympics in London might be a big bust for local travel suppliers hoping to cash in big. Your humble BAT editor was working and living in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics and saw the same phenomenon– hotels raised rates to the sky, local residents renovated homes in the hopes of renting them out to the crush of visitors. Warehouses were converted into huge entertainment venues for visitors.

Then the Olympics came… but the swath of visitors did not. They were scared away by all the warnings ahead of time. Traffic in the city was non-existent. Locals telecommuted or used public transport as instructed. Many left town altogether. Visitors attended events, then returned to their hotels… to sleep, not party all night. Except for the Olympic venues, Atlanta was a ghost town during the ’96 Games.

I wonder if the same thing will happen in London? Based on what I’m hearing, it’s possible. First it was the unprecedented, nearly too-good-to-be-true fare sale offering SFO-London round trips for just $2008 in business class. My United flight to London in early August is half full according to the United web site– there are still 25 out of 49 business class seats available. Coach is less than 75% full. Just five out of 12 first class seats are taken.  This is PEAK summer travel season, folks!

Now this… from Hotwire: 

Hotels across London are offering discounts of up to 50% during the Summer Games. Many have overestimated demand, put their prices too high and are now left with unsold rooms just a few days before the Games are to begin.

These hotels are now offering up to 50% off on discount travel websites like Hotwire.com. Three star and above London hotels are available for under $154 due to lower-than-anticipated demand. Data from discount travel website Hotwire.com show hotel prices through the first half of the games are actually lower than earlier this year.

While many London hotels anticipated a flurry of business from the games, the reality is that the economy is soft, business and leisure travelers who aren’t traveling for the Games are avoiding the city, and even an event as big as the Games couldn’t fill all the rooms in London.

These factors have led hoteliers to turn to secret hotel website Hotwire.com as a safe place where they can discount last minute and fill rooms without tarnishing their brands, and they’ve created some surprising deals for travelers looking for a last minute trip.

Some of the best available hotel rates in Central London are:

  •        5-star hotel in Mayfair for $154 for the week of July 23, 2012
  •        4-star hotel in Westminster has $140 rates through the games and into September
  •        3 or 4-star hotels in Notting Hill-Bayswater for $70 in late July
  •        3 or 4-star hotels in London Docklands have rates ranging from $59-116 during mid to late July and August
  •        3-star hotels in Kensington-Earls Court for $120 in late July

EXTRA: Virgin America is offering a significant 20% discount for flights between August 28 and November 14. Note that this is an unpublished “private sale” (associated with guitar maker Fender) and requires you to sign up in order to receive the discount. Even better: It applies to one or two folks traveling together. To get the deal, you must book your trip by July 31. Sign up here.

20% off means that $400 round trip to New York in October will only cost you $320. So there. TravelSkills just saved you 80 bucks (or $160 if you plan to travel with a special someone)!  What to thank us? Then TELL YOUR FRIENDS about TravelSkills– tell them to subscribe just like you did!

What do you think will happen in London? Will it be a teaming kluster or a quaint and efficient European capital during the Games? Are you going? What do you expect? Please leave your comments below. 

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  • chris

    Hello Coalby: Probably won’t be doing a full follow up on this, but generally, I’m hearing that they Olympics were great exposure for London, great for national pride and spirit, etc. But hotels and other travel related suppliers in non-Olympic areas felt a lull in business during the games… as well as after the games, based on the number of sales I’m now seeing for London hotels… as well as low last minute airfares to the UK.

  • coalbysmom

    I’d like to see a follow up on this subject. How did it all turn out for hotels, airline flights and London in general. The games were great, by the way.

  • chris

    Thanks, Alan! Great to get a view from across the pond. Good luck!

  • Alan Bowen

    As an unfortunate resident in London for the last 24 years, I regret to say I am not sure London is the place to be for the next two weeks. Certainly there are bargains in hotels who have discovered, too late, that people would not pay the crazy prices they thought they could achieve. There are dire warnings that London will be empty for the whole summer with accommodation prices crashing after the end of the Olympics. We are still in recession here, although with the traffic jams that began yesterday (with the imposition of ‘Olympic Lanes’ on the main roads which funnel the rest of us into only one lane to let ‘the great and the good’ get past without delay) it is hard to see the recession at street level

    The biggest problems will undoubtably be public transport too and from the main Olympic sites, my office Tube station has been warning of delays of one hour, just to enter the station, due to overcrowding, at 6pm, just the time those of us who have to commute need to get a train home. If I had the choice I would leave London for the next two weeks but that is not a possibility. To those who do come, there will be a very warm welcome, there are no delays at immigration this week and ‘the flags are out’ but ‘rather you than me’

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