Olympic Winners? Portugal and Spain

Londoners fleeing the crowds flocked to the sunny south | “There was much less demand from Portuguese tourists”

Sofia Horta e Costa

Richard Wellings is one of thousands of Londoners who skipped seeing Great Britain’s athletes snaffle a record 65 medals at the London Olympics. “I wanted to escape the inconvenience,” says Wellings, 39, a deputy editorial editor at the Institute of Economic Affairs who lives in Stratford, the East London home of the Olympic Park and the epicenter of the games.

Britons fled overseas while athletes swam, jumped, and raced at the nation’s most successful games (as measured by medals won) in more than a century. Their temporary flight helped fill hotel rooms left empty by austerity-hobbled local tourists at Porto Bay Falésia Resort, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean near Albufeira in Portugal. “There was much less demand from Portuguese tourists, so this was a good opportunity,” says Eugenio Yanov, assistant front manager at the resort. British guests increased by about 10 percent for the duration of the two-week Olympics, he says.

Spain’s Balearic Islands were the preferred destination for escapees from the games, according to Lastminute.com, which sells about 750,000 airline tickets a year. RIU Hotels & Resorts also lured 10 percent more U.K. travelers than usual to its 39 Spanish hotels, says company spokeswoman Laura Malone in Mallorca. Brits preferring the sands of Mallorca and Crete to beach volleyball on Buckingham Palace’s Horse Guards Parade more than tripled holiday bookings at London-based Lastminute during the 17 days of the Olympics, compared with last year, says spokeswoman Cheryl Jooron.

Not everyone chose beach lethargy. Tim Locke, head of marketing for tour operator Mark Warner, says demand for sporting holiday packages in southern Europe was boosted 20 percent this summer by Brits seeking sunny places to play tennis like Andy Murray or sail like Ben Ainslie. So much for the ads of British Airways, which urged the home crowd, “Don’t Fly, Support Team GB.”

The bottom line British bookings for Portuguese and Spanish resorts rose 10 percent from last year as Londoners fled the games.


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