Olympics 2012: St Albans is an ideal base for visitors, say hoteliers

London Games are “a big opportunity” for Herts tourism

EXCITEMENT is building in St Albans ahead of next year’s Olympic Games, with tourism experts saying the city should benefit from its proximity to London.

Annie Hawkins, head of tourism for the county, said Hertfordshire is being “seriously promoted” as an ideal area for Olympic spectators and visiting sports media to enjoy weekend getaways.

Speaking at a Hertfordshire Hoteliers Association (HHA) Countdown to the Olympics evening at Sopwell House, St Albans, recently, Annie, who was involved in the London bid, said tourists were amazed at how close the county was to the capital.

Annie said: “Working with sub-regional partners, we are using the Olympics as a driver for tourism, because often tourism dips during the Olympics because people think it’s going to be too busy.

“Hertfordshire is ideal for weekend breaks. People are amazed at how close we are to London.”

She said that, for example, there had recently been enquiries from the Australian men’s hockey team about places to go for rest and relaxation before the Games, which run from July 27 until August 12, 2012. The Paralympic Games are from August 29 till September 9.

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St Albans mayor Cllr Aislinn Lee echoed Annie’s comments and said: “I have been looking forward to the Olympics. I just knew they would come to England. I was so excited when London was picked.”

She added: “St Albans is in a good, commutable area and it’s a very special place to come to, so I think St Albans will benefit from the Olympics.”

Hertfordshire County Council’s executive member for transformation, Cllr Derrick Ashley, said the Games provided a big opportunity for hoteliers, and that it was an ideal time for those in the tourism industry to promote leisure and tourist attractions.

He added: “People don’t realise the value they can get coming out of London [to Hertfordshire] and it’s a very relaxing area.”

About 80 people attended the evening at Sopwell, including representatives of hotels, tourist bodies and local authorities, and St Albans MP Anne Main. They were treated to imaginative Olympics-inspired dishes, with plates put on table tennis bats, and food served in all sorts of sporting equipment, including kebabs complete with arrow flight, and food-filled badminton shuttlecocks and halved tennis balls.

General manager of Sopwell, Phil Cox, said: “We are trying to bring a bit of fun into it.”

He said the hotel, which has strong links with rugby and premier football teams, was fielding enquiries from groups and Olympic teams about accommodation during the Games, while enquiries from spectators were steadily increasing.