- Title: UK: OLYMPICS 2012: Sell out or wash out? Theatreland braces for the Olympics.
- Date: 18th July 2012
- Summary: CLOSE ON LONDON 2012 FLAG
- Embargoed: 2nd August 2012 13:00
- Location: United Kingdom
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Arts
- Reuters ID: LVACT18Q0PE24RHJEKF6Y9KRPLUL
- Story Text: As London prepares for the Olympics, the city's West End theatres wait to see whether the Games will bring packed out houses or empty seats.
They hoped that the Olympics would bring packed theatres, but some in London's glittering West End are worried seats will be empty during the Games this summer.
With advance bookings down and reports of dropping tourist numbers, bargain hunters can find online ticket sellers offering dramatic discounts to London's top shows.
Now with just over a week to go before the start of the Olympics, London's theatreland is waiting to see if the Games will prove to be a smash or a flop when it comes to ticket sales.
Britain's government led by Prime Minister David Cameron is confident, promising 4 million extra international tourists as a result of the Games, bringing 2 billion pounds in revenue to the country.
It's a prediction some theatres have taken to heart. Burlesque show 'The Hurly Burly Show' chose to time its run over the Olympic summer, believing their spicy show would attract the extra tourists expected to flow into the city.
Star Polly Rae said she was excited to be on stage during the Games.
"I have heard that people are worried and obviously that was something that we all had to consider when we thought about bringing the show back to the West End at this time of year. But obviously for us you know we are just about enticing those people that are going to be in town and we really do feel like we have something for those punters, do you know what I mean, something different, something fun, and something that they can go back to their home countries and talk about," she said.
But others, such as the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), have warned the city will see a dramatic downturn in tourists visiting London over the Olympics.
In November 2011 it warned that tour operators were seeing a 90 percent downturn in bookings during the Olympic period.
ETOA executive director Tom Jenkins believes 'normal' tourists will be turned off by inflated hotel prices and tales of traffic and security problems.
He says the sports fans who come in their place won't be heading to the shops and theatres that London has to offer.
"I think what we're going to find is that the regular tourists have been scared away during the Games, they've been replaced by sports fans and I fear domestically not anything like the same number of people. But these sports fans are not going to behave like regular tourists," he said.
It's a fear that's been shared by some of the West End's leading figures. Last December, in a BBC Radio 4 interview, composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber warned of a 'bloodbath' for London theatres during the Olympics.
In June, he clarified his comments, telling Reuters he thought the Olympics could be a positive force in the long-term, but that theatres may have to close their doors during the Games due to poor ticket sales.
"I also said that the aftermath of it might be something that was fantastic for the West End," Lloyd Webber said.
But, he added: "It doesn't look good....I know shows are going to close."
So far, those predictions haven't come true. In fact, the Society of London Theatres (SOLT) says this summer will be the first in years in which every single West End theatre has a show on.
In a What's on Stage poll of 32,000 theatregoers in March, 69 percent said they expected to attend the theatre as much or even more than usual during the Olympics.
Nevertheless, online ticket retailers say bookings are dropping.
Encore Tickets, which sells two million theatre tickets a year in the West End, told the Guardian newspaper that seat bookings had fallen by at least 20 percent.
The results is an online discount war, with retailers offering prices slashed by up to 40 percent to some of the city's top shows.
Simon Warwick, CEO of theatre ticket retailer LoveTheatre.com which sells 800,000 theatre tickets online a year, says a downturn in advance bookings shouldn't scare producers and ticket retailers. He said it's just part of a larger trend of people booking tickets last minute.
Warwick believes producers need to hold their nerve, and that seats will fill as tourists flow into the city and Olympic fever builds.
"It's business as usual - the theatres are open, the bookings are only slightly...well the bookings are up for the year as far as the Society of London Theatres say, the advances are down as I've just commented. People are not committing as far in advance as they used to so that affects the advances. So producers do get nervous, you know, they sort of say 'I'm not really sure what's going on here, oh it's all going to horrible'. I think there will be packed theatres. I really do," he said.
Whether or not the Olympics will turn to gold for the West End, theatre lovers looking for bargain prices could turn out to be the real winners in London this summer.
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