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Big events, low turn out

From the Olympics to the Rugby World Cup, travellers are often put off attending big sporting events by predictions of overpriced hotels, but should they be?

Big events, low turn out
Rugby. Image: Getty

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It’s a typical scenario when planning a short break; you look at the calendar, pick a date and then move it when you find out it clashes with a big sporting event. The reaction seems rational; a big tournament means big prices for hotel rooms.

However, experts tell us that’s not always so, and that during major contests total visitor numbers usually fall. This happened in 2012, when visits to the UK dropped 4% during the Olympics but increased throughout the rest of the year.

If you want further proof, ask Thomas Cook, which lost £17m as the Official Provider of Short Breaks during the 2012 Olympics. It slashed the price of packages a fortnight before the Games because hoteliers had demanded such high rates that no one booked with them. The last-minute sell-off worked and stadium seats filled, but only after Thomas Cook lost its shirt. Hotel specialist Trivago also watched the market tumble in 2012. It saw London room rates in July that year fall 25% year on year, to an average nightly rate of £210 as the Games began; far below astronomical predictions.

Big business today isn’t so keen on glitzy corporate entertainment. The 2010 Bribery Act means companies are careful about flashing the cash and top seats at Twickenham with a room nearby during the Rugby World Cup are a distant dream for many executives.

For those paying their own way, that’s good news. There will always be a few chancers as an unscientific look at Cardiff room rates during the Rugby World Cup proved. A search at the start of October for accommodation for the quarter finals found a night in an uninspiring, three-star property for a ridiculous price of £1,100, non-refundable. The same room the following weekend was £155, with free cancellation.

“Cardiff hasn’t really had an opportunity like this before,” explained a Trivago spokeswoman, who added: “It’s quite rare to see such an increase in London because there are so many hotels.”

Indeed, anyone wanting a room 2.5 miles from Twickenham the night before the final was in luck (even before England’s dismal early exit), as a three-star property was offered in early October for just £67, while nearby Heathrow had several big-brand hotels well under £100. Many of these will have been block-booked by sports operators and then dumped when they didn’t sell at inflated rates.

The message is that there’s no need to break the bank just because the sporting carnival has come to town — especially if you want to stay in a large city. Just hold your nerve and shop around.

Published in the December 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)