LONDON -- The European Tour Operators Association has offered yet one more set of data to back its long-held position that the Olympics are a bust, not a boon, for the cities that host them. Not coincidentally, it issued its latest report in this city, which will host the next Summer Games, in 2012.
At its annual Global European Marketplace held here last week, the ETOA released the "Beijing Olympic Update," asserting that like Athens and Sydney before it, Beijing not only suffered economically when it hosted the Summer Olympics but is still paying the price: In September, more than a year after the Games, revenue per available room fell 9.2% for Beijing hotels, even as occupancy climbed from 18.8% to 57.1%.
Beijing, the report noted, added almost 10,000 four- and five-star hotel rooms in 2008.
That the next Olympics is scheduled to be held in the ETOA's headquarters city had some of its members alarmed. Stephen Duder of Hospitality Line, which runs city tours in London, said the Olympics were giving him "sleepless nights."
"The figures from Beijing are concerning and worrying," he said.
ETOA President Jack Coronna, the former chairman of JAC Travel International, a major inbound tour operator, called the belief that Olympics benefit a host city "delusional."
"We don't need the Olympics," Coronna said. "We've already got a great tourism business. When the hotel prices go wacky in August , tour operators are going to say, 'Well, I just won't run any tours in August.' It's a sports event and shouldn't be confused with a tourism event."
He hastily added that he was speaking for himself, not as an association officer.
Last week's warning was the latest in a series of reports dating back to 2006 in which the ETOA has taken issue with the assumption that the Olympics are economically beneficial to host countries. However, the data describe only the impact of the Summer Games, not the Winter Olympics, on host destinations.
The ETOA reported that Beijing tourism was down 18% in 2008, a year in which the rest of mainland China saw an annual drop of just 2%, and that even while the Games were under way, Beijing tourism was down 5% compared with the same month in 2007.
Nevertheless, the ETOA's executive director, the plain-spoken Tom Jenkins, was unusually diplomatic in his remarks to the group, allowing that things might be different for London.
"Each city is unique," Jenkins said. "I hope London will be a city which makes a shining success of the Games. If I were doing it, I think I'd try to turn London into an amazing city to come to during the Games, but independent of the Games."
The challenge, he said, is that "if the 250,000 who come for the Olympics put off the 350,000 who normally come, we're in trouble." Olympics fans, he said, "aren't coming to see what other tourists see -- the theater, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral. But if you were to turn London into a youth capital during that time, then hey, we can have a great time. We need to think outside the Olympics."
VisitBritain's Louise Bryce, who was in the audience, was not willing to concede that the Olympics were a negative. "We are looking to build the Olympics into a strong event," she told the group. "The overall opportunity of the Olympics is positive. We want to work with ETOA, VisitLondon and others to listen to their ideas."
Jenkins later said, "The time is right now to do something for 2012. Our door is open. One thing we've learned is that displacement [of non-Olympic visitors] is a problem and that [the Games] are not a tourist magnet.
"One of our members said that the virtue of the Olympics is that it shines a light on sports that aren't often in the public eye. But they're not normally in the public eye for a very good reason: The public really isn't all that interested in them."