The 2012 London Olympics will be one of the
most significant events in Londons history, according to the
European Tour Operators Association -- but not for the tourism
The ETOA, the
London-based sister organization of the U.S. Tour Operators
Association, examined the tourism impact of the last five Olympics
on their host cities. It published its conclusions in a 23-page
Olympic Report loaded with graphs, statistics, footnotes and data
from the last five Olympic Games.
conventional wisdom, the study found that host countries do not
receive a long-term tourism boost -- in fact, they often suffer
from a drop in visitor numbers in the years before and after the
Director Tom Jenkins said the report questions prevailing beliefs
in four areas: the concept of sports-generated tourism, the numbers
claimed for TV exposure, the displacement of normal tourism and the
impact of that displacement.
findings contradict many high-profile studies that claim the
Olympics are good for tourism, Jenkins said studies that show gains
are usually based on projections about future events. The ETOA
study, on the other hand, looks at historical data -- what has
The language of hyperbole
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 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.
from a Deloitte analysis, the report also claims that Sydneys
occupancy rates fell in the months before the Games, from 83% in
March to 74% in May and to 68% in July and August before the
September event. The rate rose to 80% during the Games, then fell
to 66.2% in December.
The ETOA also
reported that claims of long-term benefits to tourism were untrue.
For example, the study found that Barcelonas tourism growth since
the 1992 Games was not as good as that of comparable European
cities, such as Prague and Dublin.
Jenkins said, The
presence of the Olympics deters regular tourists who perceive that
the city will be full, disrupted, congested and
The report also
questioned widely circulated numbers for the size of the TV
audience for the event. [See By the Numbers, July 17,
2006,European operators: Olympics viewer numbers are
Jenkins, the purpose of the report was not to rain on Londons
parade or that of other cities, but to offer a more realistic view
in order to maximize whatever benefits might be
Were trying to get
a debate started, Jenkins said. But he said the hyperbole employed
to generate interest in the Games typically foreclosed reasoned
One purpose of the
study, he said, was to ward off the impulses of politicians to
impose additional taxes on tourism businesses, based on the
erroneous belief that they were the primary beneficiaries of the
factor, Jenkins said, was the desire to
advocate an aggressive and informed marketing campaign to counter
the widespread assumption that benefits from the Olympics somehow
The heads of two
other travel trade associations voiced agreement with the
The Olympics has
not been a boon to tour operators, other than a few who provide
packages for it, said Bob Whitley, president of the U.S. Tour
Operators Association. The impression is its going to be too
crowded. Its hard for tour operators to maintain their regular
contracts with the hotels. Hoteliers get excited and up their rates
to take advantage of it. When the rooms dont fill, they come back
to the tour operators, but then its too late.
Bill Maloney, COO
of ASTA, also agreed that the Olympics were not good for normal
tourism. The average customer will find it difficult to be
accommodated during the Olympics. Everything is sold out,
acknowledged, however, that destinations can benefit from the
enhanced infrastructure, such as improvements in hotels, stadiums
Through the looking glass
Still, there are
many ways to slice any set of statistics, and much of the Olympics
presumed value boils down to intangibles.
public relations manager for the Australia Tourism Commission,
questioned the ETOAs interpretation of the figures. For example,
the comparisons of visitor numbers between Australia and New
Zealand by growth rates rather than actual visitor numbers
overlooks some nuances.
If you are trying
to do a comparison of Australia and New Zealand and just using
international arrival numbers, youre not getting the whole picture,
Australia is a
country of 20 million with a mix of business and leisure travelers;
New Zealand is a country of 4 million that offers almost
exclusively leisure travel.
ATC conducted brand
research in August 2001 to look at the Games impact on global
perceptions of Australia as a vacation destination.
Our study concluded
that the Olympics would further the impact of the brand by 10
years, Crowley said. That is, it would be the equivalent of 10
years of our normal marketing.
Paul Gauger, the
director of public relations in the U.S. for VisitBritain, who also
worked for the ATC during the years of the Olympics, contended that
there are many ways of measuring value.
It is the long-term
vision and long-term legacy that the Games can offer. Its not
always about the number of visitors, Gauger said.
The great advantage
is branding, said Crowley. While people had favorable views of
Australia, they had a very shallow understanding of the country and
what it has to offer. The Olympics showed the world that Australia
was a modern country, Crowley said, which helped the meetings
questioned the overarching conclusions of the report, the agency
agreed that the Olympics presented an opportunity to promote but
didnt give an automatic benefit.
The agency issued a
statement affirming the belief that the Games are a long-term
investment in the future of Britains visitor economy. But it also
acknowledged that realizing the tourism benefits of the Olympics
will require a properly researched strategy and
We recognize that
the benefits will not just fall in our laps, said Elliott Frisby, a
spokesman for VisitBritain in London. 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.
contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].