Trade association questions economic benefits of Olympics


The European Tour Operators Association, a London-based sister trade organization of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, released a report that hurls a bowling ball into the center of the conventional wisdom that the Olympic Games are a bonanza for tourism.

The ETOAs 23-page report, loaded with statistics from the last five Olympic Games (Summer and Winter from 1998 to 2006), concluded that the tourism industries in countries that host the Games do not receive a long-term boost, but in fact suffer from a drop in the years before and after the event.


ETOA Executive Director Tom Jenkins said the report questions prevailing beliefs on four things: the concept of sports-generated tourism; the numbers claimed for the TV audiences; the Games displacement of tourism; and the impact of that displacement.

According to the report, a trend of 10% growth in visitor arrivals in Australia, for example, turned into a decline two years before the 2000 Summer Olympics and growth remained stagnant for two years after the event. Nearby New Zealand, on the other hand, maintained steady growth throughout the decade 1994-2004.

Although the report contradicts many high-profile studies that proclaim the Olympic Games boost tourism, Jenkins said the studies that show gains are based on projections into probable scenarios, and the ETOA study is backward-looking, based on what has actually happened.

The ETOA study also claims that the beliefs of a long-term benefit to tourism are untrue. Taking Barcelona (Summer Games, 1992) as an example, the report says its tourism growth since the games was not as good as that of comparable European cities, such as Prague, Czech Republic, and Dublin, Ireland.

Jenkins said, The presence of the Olympics deters regular tourists [who] perceive that the city will be full, disrupted, congested and over-priced.

According to Jenkins, the purpose of the report was not merely to rain on Londons parade, or that of other cities vying for the Olympics, but to take a more realistic view in order to maximize whatever benefits are achievable. (London will host the Summer Games in 2012.)

The ETOA hopes to ward off the impulses of politicians to impose additional taxes on tourism businesses, he said, based on the erroneous belief that they are the primary beneficiaries of the Olympics.

The association also intended to counter the complacent belief that the benefits from the Olympics will come automatically and to advocate an aggressive and informed marketing campaign, he said.

VisitBritain, the government marketing organization, questioned the overarching conclusions of the report, but also found some points of agreement. 

The agency issued a statement affirming the belief that The Games are a long-term investment in the future of Britains visitor economy, while acknowledging that realizing the tourism benefits of the Olympics will require a properly researched strategy and investment.

We recognize that the benefits will not just fall in our laps, said Elliott Frisby, a spokesman for VisitBritains London office. We must invest in a strategy to make sure the potentials are maximized. We must make sure we are aware of the pitfalls and challenges and be ready to leap into action as soon as we kick off the campaign in 2008.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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