Ghost towns? It’s not so grim up north

Newcastle's Tyne Bridge ahead of the Olympic torch relay (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

While London’s tourist sector has been feeling the downside of the Olympics, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s hotels and retailers have been enjoying a great boost to business from Olympic football at St James’ Park.

Newcastle has the benefit of hosting football at a city centre stadium, making it relatively easy for businesses to capitalise on the injection of visitors. The timing of the Olympic football matches is also fortunate, since weekend hotel bookings in July and August in Newcastle and neighbouring Gateshead normally dip.

This football-mad city has Olympic matches spread through weekdays and over two weekends, drawing huge crowds. Wednesday’s Brazil v. New Zealand match sold well over 30,000 tickets in advance and Saturday’s men’s quarter final is already a 50,000 seat sellout.

Last weekend, when Spain played Honduras and Japan took on Morocco in Men’s Group D matches, hotel occupancy in Newcastle and Gateshead was 81.7 per cent, up from 76 per cent, 70 per cent and 71 per cent on this month’s other weekends. This weekend may well be stronger still, with the women’s quarter final on Friday afternoon and the men’s on Saturday at 5p.m.

The average weekend occupancy level for July 2012 was 75 per cent, against 72 per cent last year – a more impressive figure than it initially sounds, since Newcastle and Gateshead have gained 1,800 extra bedrooms in six new hotels over the last year, bringing the total to 5,500. Also, July 2011 had five weekends.

Some hotels, such as the four star, 156 bedroom Copthorne, are fully booked well into August, thanks to bookings by Olympic staff.

“The city centre hotels are reporting very strong occupancy rates; most are fully booked or have only a small number of rooms available,” says Stephen Patterson, head of marketing for NEI, the city’s business improvement district company.

As well as Olympic organisers and football supporters, hotels have won business from an influx of media, beaming pictures worldwide of an – intermittently – sunny Newcastle full of cheerful football fans. “Some of the most influential visitors we have been hosting here in the last ten days are the international TV and film crews,” observes Sarah Stewart, chief executive of the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, the area’s promotional body.

Football in Northumberland Street, one of Newcastle’s prime shopping avenues, was last week up 19.6 per cent against the same week last year. Retailers are seeing lots of foreign visitors in their shops. Their purchases, says Mr Patterson, may be impulse buys like clothing, but in the current economic climate, that’s not a bad thing.