Forget travelling abroad. Why London 2012 was the holiday destination of 2012…

Outside the Olympic Stadium

The holiday experience begins in travelling to your destination, and London 2012 was no different. We should not sugar-coat the experience. When heading abroad many of us travel by budget airline where pre-travel excitement fades in the reality of a compact plane shared with many, many other passengers. On arrival, travel to our hotel is usually unbearable for the very reason we picked the destination – it’s so damn hot! And if we are lost, helpful locals often give confusing advice. London’s Olympic transport did not disappoint. Excitement at visiting the Games was lost in the reality of travelling on the tube. Needless to say the tube was busy, very busy. And, rather out of character, the weather was good which made the tube hot, very hot. But never fear because most importantly we had our own local, London Mayor Boris Johnson, offering his own confusing advice to millions of visitors. Novelty transport announcements were entrusted to the babbling, rambling Boris as he addressed hoards of baffled tourists and amused Londoners alike. Daily entertainment was guaranteed, as “Hi folks!” announced another mumbling Boris special …

You may not yet be convinced of the holiday vibe. Yet arriving at the Olympic Park one could not deny its holiday hotspot potential: tourist attractions, hospitality reps, VIPs/celebrities and a feel good factor. Move over Ibiza! The attractions are just too obvious, notably every sports venue and every sport. The volume of tourists was also undeniable as the Olympic Stadium alone could hold 80,000 people and London prepared to receive one million Olympic visitors a day. And then there were the corporate hospitality reps, like myself, meeting and greeting guests. Admittedly we were working for Olympic sponsors and not travel operators but isn’t being showered in hospitality, any hospitality, the essence of the package holiday? But London is an A-list destination and among the crowds there were enough VIPs/celebrities to rival St Tropez. Like holiday clubbers on a guest list, corporate guests and Olympic invitees were noticeable by their hospitality invites granting privileged access to hospitality suites, the best of which was the illustrious ‘Privilege Lounge’. And let’s not forget the athletes! You could always identify an athlete by their accreditation (an ID and access pass) and they would all freely wander around the Olympic Park, so you never knew just when a medallist might walk past!
SUN, SEA AND SAND 1/5 (“Sunny with a chance of showers.”)


Pin Trading

Maybe it still sounds far from your typical holiday if you aim to escape Britain and submerge into a different culture. Not so fast. The Olympic Park had something to offer you too: pin trading. Olympic pins have been produced since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Today everybody involved in the Olympics including organising committees, national teams and sponsors produce their own pins. Pin trading is the craze, and assembling a good collection of pins is the ultimate souvenir. It seems like a collector’s hobby but do not be fooled as pin trading is business and pins become a second currency. If you’ve ever haggled in a Middle Eastern Bazaar you should employ all your haggling experience – know your pins, haggle firmly and accept that you will at some point be ripped off by a more experienced pin trader (pins hold different values depending on how rare they are.) Everyone spending several days at the Olympic Park from volunteers, reps, police and even the army was gripped by pin mania. The reserved British attitude which stops people talking to anyone on the tube was forgotten, and it became acceptable to strike up conversation with passing strangers and offer them a “good trade” on whichever pin you wished to flog them in exchange for their better one.

This is the final straw proving that the Olympic Park lacked nothing from a holiday experience. In Britain we are not good at foreign languages, and when we travel abroad we assume that everyone everywhere will speak English. Our expectations are usually fulfilled. We joke that only France does not comply because the French – perplexingly – insist on speaking French. Perhaps to avoid confrontation, both English and French are official languages of the Olympic Games with every official sign and programme being written in both languages. Every French tourist therefore expects that everybody working at the Olympic Park should speak French. I was not prepared. When the first person asked me a question in French without even asking if I spoke French I was very surprised. Surely I was in France? Few people speak fluent French in Britain, let alone assume that others do. I’m not sure what was more disappointing: that it started to rain – so I definitely was not on the Côte d’Azur – or having to struggle to answer the question with the first two years of a French degree behind me.


Charlotta Karlsson Hill


All images copyright Charlotta Karlsson Hill