The UK is set to suffer a downturn in tourism because of the 2012 Olympics, according to a leading tour operator group.
The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) predicts a fall of up to 50% in visitor numbers in London during the Games, with the knock-on effect being felt across Britain.
Chief Executive Tom Jenkins told Sky News; “It looks like it (tourist demand) is going to be at least 50% down during the seven week period of the Games and the period running up to it.
“I think the worse case scenario is effectively a close-down of London as a tourism destination for 5 to 7 weeks. This will cause real damage.
“The ramifications are going to affect everybody in tourism throughout the British Isles and Ireland. The fact is that London has been largely removed as a gateway for a seven week period of high season.
“That means it’s very difficult for people to arrive and go elsewhere in the UK. We’ve effectively removed it as a gateway.
“The tourism ramifications of the Olympic Games are really going to take at least a year to recover from.”
The prediction may come as something of a surprise, after promises that the tourism industry would be one of the big winners of London 2012.
But Mr Jenkins says a downturn as a result of the Olympics is only to be expected.
“The phenomenon of displacement has been shared by every Olympic destination that’s had an Olympic games since Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s a simple fact that an Olympic Games displaces tourists.
“The Olympics are dedicated to the people who are interested in the Olympic Games, and that attracts the people who are interested in the sports contained.
“It doesn’t attract people who are interested in London and the things that London contains.”
However, it might not be all bad news.
“It is possible that London hotels might do quite well out of Olympics. We have after all got a large sporting event in north east London,” said Mr Jenkins.
“It’s possible. I don’t think it is probable. The important thing we have to do is enjoy the party. It is after all a £10bn party, there for the domestic audience.”