Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Tourists find cash crunch of Olympic proportions

London visitors told to bring British pounds


Tower Bridge with Olympic rings is silhouetted as the sun sets Monday in London. The summer Olympics in London starts on Friday.


LONDON -- Tourists be warned: The Olympics crush has begun in London -- and so has the scramble for cash in the pricey British capital.

The lines are getting longer at ATMs, visitors are in sticker shock over British prices, and some befuddled tourists are wondering what currency to use. Stores in the Olympic Park accept only certain credit cards, and a British financial authority is recommending that tourists make sure to bring British pounds with them.

"I've had people asking me whether they should pay in British pounds or euros," said Alex Singer, 27, a London cab driver. "I've also had Americans thinking that they can pay me in dollars."

Britain, which uses pounds -- not euros or dollars -- had a test run ahead of the Olympics last month during a four-day holiday. Some cash machines in the city ran dry.

During Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June to honor Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign, dozens of ATMs across London ran out of cash as hundreds of thousands descended on the city to see fireworks, concerts, and a flotilla of 1,000 boats on the Thames.

An estimated 1 million extra visitors are expected in greater London during the Olympics, which begin Friday and run through Aug. 12 -- a nearly three-week extravaganza as opposed to the Jubilee weekend.

"It's going to be chaos," said Zelda Buchanan-Clark, a London teacher. "They're going to have to carry extra money."

The U.K.'s Payment Council, which works with banks and other cash providers, says assessments have been made to figure out how much cash is needed in London during this tourist surge and what denominations will be most useful.

But it has also advised tourists to withdraw cash before they get to London and to have backup plans in case their credit cards are rejected or local cash machines run dry.

An estimated $77 billion of cash is in circulation across the U.K., and there will be 1,700 cash machines near Olympic venues, the Payment Council said.

Further complications may be in store for credit card users at the games. Because Visa holds an exclusive sponsorship for the London Olympics, people at Olympics venues will have to use cash, Visa credit or debit cards, or go to kiosks where they can use other credit cards to purchase a special Visa prepaid card.

Ample supplies of cash -- and credit -- will be needed as visitors grapple with London's high prices. The British capital has long been one of the world's most expensive cities, and vendors are not lowering prices before the games.

The basics are not cheap: a crosstown ride on London's overcrowded subway can cost up to $7.50 at peak times even with a discount travel card. A half pint of beer and a hamburger with fries in a typical pub costs about $15.60. A single movie ticket at the Odeon in Leicester Square runs $22.

Move into the luxury sphere and the prices become stratospheric. Afternoon tea at the historic Hotel Savoy costs $70, then rises to $90 if a glass of champagne is added. The tip is included, but that's little consolation.

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