LONDON (Reuters) - Defying gloomy predictions that Londoners would leave in their droves to avoid the crowds and disruption that accompany the Games, passenger figures show that most people have opted to stay at home and enjoy the Olympic party.
Britain’s two biggest airports said they had seen no significant increase in the number of passengers flying abroad while Eurotunnel said outward bound bookings on Channel Tunnel trains were slower than usual this week and next.
More than 10 million people braved torrential rain and then scorching summer temperatures to see the Olympic flame on its 8,000 mile journey across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, according to Games organizer Locog.
Only one in 10 travelers is leaving London to avoid the Games, according to a survey by the Association of British Travel Agents. Seven out of 10 Londoners were even looking forward to the Games, the survey showed.
“Numbers taking holidays at this time are fairly consistent with past years,” said ABTA spokeswoman Victoria Bacon.
“While some have chosen to forgo a summer holiday during the Games, these have been balanced by those wanting to get away,” she said.
That statistical and anecdotal evidence contrasts with the doomsday predictions by some of the British media that Londoners would flock to foreign shores to avoid the security checks, crowds and chaos that the Olympics is likely to bring.
Jessica May, a 21-year old London-based student travelling to Spain from Gatwick, said: “I‘m not going away specifically because of the Games though it is a happy coincidence because of transport issues and security threats.”
In a sign of just how strong the perception of an outflow is, British Airways even tried to entice customers to stay at home by offering cash back on holiday bookings after the Games if Team GB heptathlete Jessica Ennis won a medal.
BA is offering to hand over 100 pounds per booking if Ennis wins gold, 75 pounds if she earns silver and 50 pounds if she collects a bronze medal.
The Games have provoked an outpouring of scorn from opponents: everyone from punters who missed out on tickets due to a botched sale to the drivers of the iconic London black taxis who are upset at the traffic disruption.
But Gatwick, London’s second-busiest airport, which mainly serves the package holiday market, expects July departures to come in at 1.9 million, the average departure figure for the past five years.
Ferrovial’s BAA, the operator of London Heathrow, refused to provide a forecast for July 2012 but said Europe’s busiest airport had not seen a significant increase in outbound passenger numbers from London this month.
Heathrow has seen an average of 3.4 million passengers fly out each July since 2007, according to Reuters calculations. Almost 9 million tickets were sold for the Games.
Eurotunnel said bookings to the United Kingdom were up 30 percent from last year and that though they had seen a high number of departures at the beginning of July, bookings for this week and next week were slower compared to previous years.
“There’s an influx of continental Europeans just before the Games, followed by a waiting period while the Games are on. Then there’s an exodus at the end of the Games of people returning to the Continent and those going on holiday,” said John Keefe, spokesman for the Eurotunnel group.
“What that suggests is that they delayed their holiday while the Games were on,” Keefe said.
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Maurice Tamman and Peter Millership