UK inbound tour operators fear a sharp fall in visitors to London in 2012 as a result of the city hosting the Olympic Games.

The European Tour Operators’ Association released a snapshot of inbound buyers’ forecasts at World Travel Market yesterday following a survey conducted at its annual Global European Marketplace last week.

Etoa found that more than two-thirds (68%) of the 200 buyers surveyed expect an average 30% drop in visitors to London in 2012 compared with 2011. Almost as many (60%) expect a decline to elsewhere in England and Wales.

At the same time, two-thirds of operators to continental Europe anticipate an increase in arrivals to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam in 2012.

Etoa executive director Tom Jenkins described the survey as alarming and warned: “Every Olympic city has believed more foreign visitors would come than actually materialised. Every Olympic Games has misled perceptions of what will happen.”

But he added: “The good news is we are still 21 months away from the event. This gives us time to create a realistic set of criteria in which negotiations and sales can take place.”

Speaking at a WTM seminar on sports tourism, South Africa Tourism chief marketing officer Roshene Singh insisted that hosting major sporting events had resulted in long-term benefits.

“The boost you get is important for the confidence of investors,” she said. “The legacy is in the visitors that return, and places such as Bloemfontein and Nelspruit now have much better tourism offering as a result of hosting such events.”

Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations World Travel Organisation, said there were great opportunities to use such events to showcase destinations to emerging tourism markets such as China.