Olympic-sized greed

Ok – slightly off the usual topic of technology but London is now a week into its Olympic games and what a week so far. Next week will be even better; largely because I’m fortunate enough that I’ll be there in person to watch Team GB in action on the basketball court.
But the games can’t pass me by without some reflection on the spectacular display of corporate greed that has hung over the event. Far from being the ‘People’s Games’ and far from being an opportunity to ‘Inspire a Generation’, ticket prices have been astronomical (compounded by one of the worst online ticketing systems I have ever encountered. Why show available sessions and then not release tickets after hours of repeated trying? Just put my request in a queue. Someone should feel truly embarrassed by the farce that is the ticketing system.) Anyway, back to the point. Corporate greed.
In the run-up to the games, the media was full of stories about profiteering. Hotels tripling their prices, local residents renting their houses etc. Supply and demand we were told. But in the end, London has been relatively quiet as many tourists, commuters and residents stay away from what the organizers told us would be a congested city and transport system (a myth perpetuated by a media always hungry for a scare story). Now, I feel genuinely sorry for the small businesses that have suffered; from taxi drivers to shopkeepers across the capital who claim they’ve seen takings drop. But I don’t feel sorry for the large corporate that thoughts they could profiteer from the games at the public’s expense under the catch-all excuse of supply and demand.
Take UK travel giant Thomas Cook. The tour operator had 300,000 tickets for the games, many of which it hoped to sell with hotel packages. This week it was forced to sell off nearly 50,000 of those on the cheap having failed miserably to dupe members of the public into overly expensive packages. The company had also hoped to sell the majority to the corporate market. In reality it’s only managed to sell 10% to this sector. Consider those tens (even hundreds) of thousands of tickets taken out of the original ticketing ballot; tickets the public can no longer afford (or want) because tour operators have ‘added-value’ by bundling with expensive hotel packages.
Here’s a great example. Thomas Cook is offering a ticket to the closing ceremony and a night in the London Hilton Paddington for an eye-watering £2,999 per person. The assigned seats are in ‘Category A’, that’s a prime seat with a face value of approximately £1500. But that still means the hotel room (and transfer to the stadium) is still running at nearly £1500.

Thomas Cook’s Closing Ceremony Package

The hotel must be in high demand right? Well, no. I’ve just gone to the hotel website directly and checked availability. It’s wide open. OK then, it must be an expensive room, like a fancy suite right? Wrong again, it’s a standard room. The Hilton website (for the exact same night and room) is quoting me £149. Less than 10% of the £1500 I estimate Thomas Cook is trying to sell the room for.

Same room, same night. 10% of the price.

Really Thomas Cook? Are you genuinely baffled as to why you can’t shift these packages? Consumers aren’t stupid. We have the internet. We can do the research; we are a generation of savvy-shoppers and you play with our trust and loyalty at your own peril.
Now, Thomas Cook is not solely to blame here. I’m sure Hilton also saw an opportunity and sold its rooms to Thomas Cook at a super inflated rate. I also acknowledge that the IOC block books thousands of rooms and then returns them (typically) un-sold weeks before the games.
Regardless of who’s to blame, all I know is that there are tens of thousands of members of the public and genuine sports fans that could have had a better chance of scoring a ticket in the original ballot had operators like Thomas Cook not secured hundreds of tickets only to try and ‘add value’ and bundle them into packages that nobody actually wants, nor can afford.

So, rant over. Now back to enjoying the games for what they are…and looking forward to visiting the Olympic Park in person in the coming days!

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