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Can the Olympics pay for your holiday?

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Guest blog by Chris Wright, Managing Director at GIC The Villa Collection and Sunvil:

Summer 2012 brings with it the long anticipated Olympic Games. But even at the beginning of the bidding process, back at the start of the millennium when the country was more prosperous, the nation was divided as to whether the Games would be good for the country.

With a £20 per year council tax rise needed to fund the event, many Londoners have challenged the high cost of the Games.  The ongoing battle between West Ham United and the Olympic Legacy Company also raises the possibility of us being left with ‘white-elephant’ sites like the Millennium Dome once was.

The rest of the country also remains divided, with some fearing the whole of the United Kingdom will be forced to help fund the Olympics, for no benefit.

Those that are looking forward to the spectacle of London 2012 placed their bids for event tickets in March 2011.  Many seemed to apply for a range of tickets in the hope of getting something, even if it was for an event in which they had no interest.  Out of all of my friends and acquaintances, none were successful in getting tickets, even for the most obscure of events.

For a London-based business like ourselves, the Olympics bring a whole new set of problems. Will employees be able to make it into the office?  Will internet and telecoms services stand up under the strain? Most of all, as an outbound tour operator, what we do not know, of course, is how the games will affect people’s desire to travel.

Whenever a big sporting event takes place, there is no doubt that it impacts on peoples’ travel plans.  Whilst England remained in the World Cup in 2010, bookings died away.  As soon as they were knocked out, there was a surge in calls from people wanting to escape to Greece.  I am therefore never in favour with sport-loving friends during such events because I am always willing our national teams to exit competitions early!

On a personal front, my home in Windsor is situated on the main access road to Dorney Lake, host to the rowing event.  Despite the huge amounts spent on road improvement projects, it is still anticipated that traffic congestion will be unbearable.

So wouldn’t it be best to leave it all behind, head for the sun and escape all the headaches?
Whilst I was away over Christmas, several people asked if I had considered renting my property out for people attending the Games.  It hadn’t even crossed my mind!  However, the following day on returning to the office, we had an enquiry from someone wanting to book a villa in Greece because they had rented their property out to Olympics attendees. Since then we have had a steady flow of bookings from clients with similar ideas.  Two ladies with flats in central London were quite pleased to announce that they were having a free holiday because it was being paid for by the proceeds of their Olympic rentals!

It seems there are two possible options; either pay an agent specialising in short-term lets, or do it yourself. Agents will typically charge a commission of between 10%-15% plus VAT. The advantage is that they provide a contract and, crucially, collect the money.

Those that are a little more techno-savvy and want to avoid paying commission can put their property on one of the many websites or mobile apps that have sprung up.  Fees to use these websites seem to vary from £25 to £150 and you will need to take your own photos and write a detailed description. Of course, this route leaves it to the property owner to agree a price, collect the rent and deal with the client – although some sites do seem to be offering meet-and-greet, cleaning and laundry services.

If you are lucky enough to live in close proximity of the Olympic site and are willing to be out of your house for a longer period, people working at the Games are having to rent accommodation for up to six weeks.  Although a lot of these rentals will have been placed by now there may still be a chance of getting a month in the sun by moving out of your property and letting it out.

With some predicting three-bedroomed family houses close to the stadium renting for up to £5,000 a week, it could be a chance to get a luxury holiday for the family for nextto-nothing.  At a time when spending power is being squeezed, this  sounds like a perfect solution.

I still haven’t decided what form my London 2012 experience will take.  I am told there is a shortage of male performers for the opening ceremony, so I may well audition to carry a flag!

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When I first started out travel writing, twenty years ago, I was writing a weekly round-up for The Independent. The first PR agency I ever tapped into for their clients' holiday ideas was Travel PR; they were always full of great suggestions for the column and responded quickly. Over the years, I've worked with them on many occasions and their close association with AITO has always paid dividends. Nothing has changed; some of the best story ideas I get herald from them, and their response time remains very speedy. They are a pleasure to work with.

Mark Stratton, Freelance Travel Writer

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