London burning undermines image ahead of Olympics

Tue Aug 9, 2011 10:02am EDT
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Riots across London this week could not have come at a worse time for a country preparing to welcome millions of visitors to the Olympics next summer and struggling to attract investment as its economy falters.

Images flashed around the world of burning buildings, looters ransacking shops and police fighting with masked gangs risk damaging Britain's reputation as a place to visit and do business, analysts and business leaders said on Tuesday.

Crisis management expert Alex Woolfall said it was crucial that the police and government end the rioting quickly to avoid causing lasting damage to the perception of Britain overseas.

"If the story becomes 'one week of summer madness', then it will come and go and people will move on," said Woolfall, an executive at public relations company Porter Novelli.

"But if this drags on, or worse, that it looks like there is a genuine inability to stop it, then that really does start to change perceptions," he said, adding that the danger lay in worries building about security and whether the country had enough police.

The British Retail Consortium, a trade body which represents 90 percent of stores, said the rioting sent an "appalling message" to people at home and abroad.

"It will put people from other parts of the UK, and from abroad, off going to London in the medium term," said a spokesman.

Any decline in tourists' spending would be hard on British retailers at a time of low consumer confidence and public spending cuts. Britain's economy barely grew in the second quarter following six months of stagnation.   Continued...

<p>A police officers stands near a burnt out shop in Clapham Junction, in south London August 9, 2011. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth</p>