Is there a gap in the market for some straight talking?

Wherever your business is in the world, you are bound to have been directly or indirectly affected by the hosting of a major sporting event; a World Cup, the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics. We can’t get away from them. Love them or loathe them, they are very much a part of the global economic landscape.

We are  bracing ourselves for the summer Olympics and the wires are buzzing with all manner of cliches and frightening claims about what bounty we will all enjoy. Why are we heading down the same well-trodden path that every host city or country has trod before, making the same mistakes; hiking accommodation costs, adopting unrealistic expectations and shouting the same jargon about the so-called benefits?  But recently the headlines have started to include other points of view  – suggesting that in fact the London Olympics could well be another set of ‘Emperors New Clothes’.

The irony is that the national tourism agencies, who receive the bulk, if not all of their funding from central government, of course have to be seen to the dancing to the governments tune and will continue to swear blind that all is just wonderful and dandy.  Whilst I understand their ‘dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t’ position, what I don’t appreciate is the lack of good old fashioned straight talking. Why continue to lead the industry along a path of potential failed expectation and customer disappointment when in fact businesses would benefit from scenario planning. If there is a real risk of visitors staying away, perhaps I shouldn’t invest in a new plant and machinery, or build that new hotel, if they won’t be coming for another three years? Although for some, this will be too late.

As the construction phase nears completion, the focus shifts to the so-called ‘legacy benefits’ that tourism is expected to deliver. These have yet to be articulated. There is no reason too, why visitor numbers won’t decline after these Olympics either, why would there be any difference? Once the official organisers have left town, and the tumbleweed is blowing down the high street, who is left to pick up the banner? I really hope the UK will be different in demonstrating strong post Olympic tactical marketing where there is too often, an eerie silence as energy and resources are depleted and DMO budgets slashed.

I have not completed a thesis on the benefits to the host nation of having these mega-events, but I have been listening and talking to colleagues whose businesses are affected by these events – as is mine. One crucial piece of information I haven’t been able to find, is a cost-benefit analysis of hosting these events. Leaving aside new infrastructure, such as new road and rail improvement, has anyone ever calculated the cost of attracting the so-called legacy visitor? It must be eye-watering. And then we have the cost of lost business to the destination through visitor substitution, then a decline in the years following these events. Is it all worth it?

There are a lot a businesses, who very quietly, just get on with doing what they do best; earning a good living for innovating and delivering on the customer experience. Year after year. Let’s not patronise but applaud them for the real contribution they make to the ongoing health of our industry.  Perhaps they have something to teach us?

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