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Special report: London Olympics fuel strong UK air bookings


By JAMES WILKINSON

Airlines are reporting strong bookings from Australia to London on the back of what has been hailed one of the most successful Olympic Games in history.

London’s Olympics have been a major success for tourism

Unprecedented media coverage and amazing footage of the English capital are being aided by a strong Australian Dollar and as a result, airlines are seeing demand shoot through the roof.

Olympic sponsor and host airline, British Airways, says demand for travel to the UK has been significant throughout this year and that’s expected to continue on the back of London 2012.

“A fuller picture will emerge in the next two to three weeks, after the Games have wrapped up, but the signs are very promising,” said British Airways’ Regional Commercial Manager for the South West Pacific, Neil Ager.

British Airways’ award-winning Club World cabin

“British Airways has had some fantastic sale fares in both premium and non-premium cabins in the lead up to, and during, the Games and these have been very well received.”

Ager says the key to success for the remainder of the year will come from maximizing Australians’ interest in the Games.

“We’re looking to really capitalise on the increased interest in London and the UK and will be working with our partners to make sure that happens,” he told SpiceNews.

“The images from the Olympics and [the Queen’s] Jubilee have been incredible, and paint a brilliant picture of modern Britain.”

Fellow British flag carrier Virgin Atlantic is also reporting strong numbers from Sydney to London.

“There was a definite spike in bookings before the Games and we are seeing the momentum continue over the next three months,” said Virgin Atlantic’s General Manager for Australia, Luke Fisher.

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is recording strong bookings

“Our key travel partners have indicated that bookings for Virgin Atlantic are tracking above market and against trends with June seeing record bookings to the UK for Virgin Atlantic, as did May with a 136% increase YOY in London bookings from Australia.”

Fisher says the back end of 2012 looks particularly strong.

“Looking ahead our forward bookings are looking up with a 7-8% growth year-on-year,” he told SpiceNews. “So we are looking to be in a good place for the remainder of the year. It’s interesting, usually we see a decrease in visitors to an Olympic city post the games, but that’s not the case with London.

“We are seeing an increase in people visiting the city and with our partnership with Visit Britain we are keen to keep the momentum going, giving people many reasons to travel to Britain.”

Australian team sponsor Qantas says London 2012 has been a winner for the Flying Kangaroo.

“Demand to London has been strong,” a Qantas spokesperson told SpiceNews. “[There has been] particularly a high demand around the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

“All cabins have proved to be popular… in particular, Premium Economy has been performing well,” the spokesperson said.

The Kangaroo Route is popular for Qantas

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic also say Premium Economy is the most popular cabin to the UK at present.

“We are constantly full in our Premium Economy cabin,” Virgin’s Fisher said.

BA’s Ager added: “We’ve had some excellent results in the World Traveller Plus [Premium Economy] and Club World [Business] cabins.”

Continuing that trend, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific’s new Premium Economy cabin has been a top choice for travel to the UK.

“We saw a very good reaction to our recent Premium Economy sale fare to the UK, but generally the booking patterns seems to be trending as expected,” said Cathay Pacific’s Marketing Communications Manager, Richiko Olrichs.

Singapore Airlines’ Public Relations Manager for the South-West Pacific, Bryony Duncan-Smith, said the Australia to London services remain a strong route for the airline and especially so this year.

“During the period [this year] three factors drove performance: the introduction of our third A380 daily service to LHR, peak European summer holiday period and of the Olympics,” she told SpiceNews.

Strong numbers to Europe: Singapore Airlines (pictured is Business Class)

“We certainly attribute a particularly strong performance in the premium cabins to the Olympics, which is a reflection of the high profile corporate entertainment associated with the Games.

“What is interesting to note is the strong growth in forward bookings to London after the Olympics, which makes our fourth daily service (operated by our 777-300ER) in October particularly timely,” she said.

Middle East carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways are reporting strong demand for their premium cabins to the UK.

“Traffic between Australia, Europe and the UK is always more frequent during the northern hemisphere’s summer months, however we have seen an even greater number of passengers ex Australia travelling to the UK with the Olympics,” said Emirates’ Vice President for Australasia, Barry Brown.

“All Emirates’ cabins continue to perform strongly on European itineraries, and we’re seeing increased interest in mixed fare offerings, allowing travellers to lie-flat and rest in Business Class from Australia to Dubai, and enjoy spacious Economy seats for the shorter section of the trip from Dubai to the UK and Europe,” he told SpiceNews.

An Emirates Boeing 777 departs Sydney

Brown said Emirates has seen strong demand from Australia to the UK over the past two months and not just to London, but also to Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Glasgow.

Emirates is expected to see further growth from Australia in the coming months, with the launch of Adelaide-Dubai flights on November 1 and increases to Perth-Dubai services, which jump to 19 per week on December 1 and then thrice-daily from March 1, 2013. Melbourne will also get A380 services to Dubai and Auckland from October.

An Etihad Airways spokesperson told HM there has been strong demand for London, but “this is more seasonal than Olympics-driven”.

For the remainder of the year, the spokesperson said the industry could expect “continuing fierce competition between airlines with some airlines offering very sharp pricing for travel to European destinations”.

Etihad’s partner airline Virgin Australia, which flies to Abu Dhabi from Sydney three times per week then codeshares with Etihad onto Europe, expects the UK market to remain strong for the remainder of 2012.

“London continues to be a top market for Virgin Australia in Australia,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson told SpiceNews. “London is our most popular European destination in terms of passenger volume and we have seen growth this year versus last.”

South African Airways’ Country Manager for Australia, Tim Clyde-Smith said traffic between Australia and the UK continues to growth for the Johannesburg-based airline.

“We’re seeing an increase in both business and tourism traffic to London via South Africa,” he told SpiceNews. “It’s a combination of people wanting a different holiday experience on the way to the UK and Europe and business people (particularly mining companies) with interests in both Africa and Europe.

South African Airways: to Europe via Johannesburg is popular

“The flying time is not a lot more, but you can experience two quite different environments on the one trip. Our through connections onto London are excellent and allow you to visit Cape Town or go on safari to get a completely new holiday for not a lot more money,” he said.

Clyde-Smith said while the Olympics haven’t produced a spike in bookings, the airline has been busy.

“Not really although a lot of South Africans travelled to London to see the games and our flights have been full through this period,” he said. “And with South Africa’s medal haul, we may even see growth in sports tourism.”

In the second part of our special report on the London 2012 Olympic Games, SpiceNews talks to the leading hotel chains about performance during the Games and what they can expect in the remainder of the year. More to come soon.