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Jeremy Hunt dismisses ‘West End ghost town’ complaints

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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has dismissed concerns that West End trade is dying a death during the East End-focussed Olympic Games as "absolute nonsense" in an interview today with the Evening Standard.

Hunt is fighting back from a week in which hotels, shops and entertainment venues of all types have reported dramatically diminished footfall. Chief executive of Nimax Theatres, Nica Burns, told the Financial Times "we're bleeding, darling", with ticket sales down 30% at her six West End theatres.

The minister, however, claimed that the number of West End visitors is in fact unchanged, and that theatres and other businesses will experience increased trade off the back of the Olympics for years to come.

"I think anyone who has a business anywhere in London is frankly quids in," he told the Standard. "London was a fantastically important global city, but thanks to the Games it is iconic.

"The number of visitors we expect in the years that follow will be huge. All this publicity in every corner of the planet can only help... and I think it is going to be a massive boost.

"The opening ceremony was the most magnificent display of British creativity, British culture, and British theatre that you could possibly hope for... as a result of that, people will be wanting to come to the theatre in London for years..."

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the marketing body for theatre owners and producers, admitted that "particularly last week West End theatre had a very quiet week", but he believes that the landscape is now changing.

"The good news is that most shows are reporting much better sales this week," Bird said, adding that "there is availability" at many popular shows, with the bonus of extended operating hours for tubes and trains making travel home afterwards easier.

Julian Stoneman, executive producer of Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages, agreed about the noticeable emptiness of the West End. "We all can see a huge difference in the amount of people who are on the streets,” he told Whatsonstage.com. “But the plus side is that, this week, we are seeing an increase in our ticket sales from the last three or four weeks.

"I think there could be many reasons (for the visitor shortfall): summer holidays are now coming in and the Olympics have hit us. But for once we're actually getting around on our transport system without too many problems. It is probably the best time to come to London because everything is working on time, it's efficient, and there are numerous people around to help tourists because of the Olympics."

Whatsonstage.com readers have been sending us their own thoughts on theatregoing during the Olympics, and the ease with which they’ve been travelling around London this week. There’s also a lively debate on the matter under way on the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum. Also, look out for our upcoming Feature on Top Reasons to come into the West End in August!


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