Bri­tain gears up for a year of big events

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MERRY KIRK­WOOD

GET­TING to host Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games is like hit­ting the tourism jack­pot. It’s a golden op­por­tu­nity to show­case a des­ti­na­tion to huge global au­di­ences, but vis­i­tors need to plan and pre­pare.

‘‘While the [2012] Olympics is a bril­liant draw­card for London and Bri­tain, some trav­ellers are con­cerned the [cap­i­tal] city, in par­tic­u­lar, may be too busy dur­ing the events,’’ says Visitbri­tain’s Syd­ney-based public re­la­tions ex­ec­u­tive Sarah Styles. But more than 100,000 ho­tel rooms are avail­able in London and in towns and cities nearby, and Aus­tralians want­ing to pur­chase tick­ets to Olympic events should con­tact Syd­ney­based Cosport (1800 668 570; cosport.com.au).

To en­cour­age a year-long spread of vis­i­tors, na­tion­wide events have been launched to at­tract a fore­cast 30.7 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals. Con­sider the for­tu­itous tim­ing of the Queen’s di­a­mond ju­bilee year, which is bound to buoy the coun­try’s sense of good­will. Ex­hi­bi­tions in towns and vil­lages to mark the oc­ca­sion are al­ready adding sparkle to the car­ni­val mood. In June, a 1000-boat ju­bilee pageant will take place on the River Thames as a spec­tac­u­lar pre­lude to the Games, and new long-term tourism ini­tia­tives in­clude the 1400km Wales Coastal Path, to be in­au­gu­rated in May.

June 21 marks the start of the London 2012 Fes­ti­val (with more than 1000 the­atri­cal events) as the city pre­pares to wel­come the 17,000 ath­letes com­pet­ing for medal glory from July 27 to Au­gust 12.

Aus­tralians are al­ready soak­ing up the party at­mos­phere. Kirsty Har­ri­son of last­minute.com.au says that due to our strong dol­lar, there was a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in ho­tel book­ings in Bri­tain and con­ti­nen­tal Europe dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2011. Dis­counted flights and pack­ages con­tinue to be of­fered and some air­lines have re­turn fares to London, on se­lected dates, for less than $2000.

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