Shortly after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I was invited to speak to tourism leaders in Cape Town, South Africa about Tourism Vancouver’s Olympic strategy…specifically what we learned, what we would or wouldn’t do again, and how we measured our success.
Still on a high after achieving nearly all of our objectives, I waxed on about how we leveraged the games to secure incremental leisure, meetings, and major events for the city largely due to the new infrastructure, capacity and expertise BC now had having just hosted one of the world’s largest spectacles.
However, when a local reporter asked me whether her city should consider a bid to host the summer Olympics, my immediate response was no. Suffice it to say, several folks in the room were surprised.
I went on to explain that although it had a world class stadium built for the FIFA World Cup, Cape Town did not appear to have anywhere near the infrastructure to accommodate such a massive event. Notwithstanding the challenges with the layout of the city, I suggested that building all of the competition venues, transportation infrastructure, hotels, and other amenities required for the games looked to be cost prohibitive, never mind the additional enormous expenses for obligations such as security.
In a community already struggling with over two million residents that live in poverty, to me the priorities seemed out of alignment. I went on to say that Cape Town should resist the temptation to bid for the games until a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis was completed (as an aside, today only a handful of cities and countries have the capacity and resources to host the games), and other factors were taken into consideration.
I am reminded of what I said to the South African audience when opportunities arise to host major events in British Columbia. To be sure, TIABC is a huge proponent of major events (e.g. World Cup, Olympics, World Expositions) as a catalyst for economic and infrastructure development, destination marketing, social and environmental benefits, among other outcomes. In fact, you may recall that we submitted a policy brief to government earlier this year that is being considered in the context of the province’s impending major events strategy.
At the same time, we’re not a proponent of hosting any and all events regardless of the cost. Clearly the business case must be compelling, particularly from a tourism perspective. As you can appreciate, any evaluation seeks to answer several obvious questions like “do we have the right infrastructure to support the endeavour (venues, accommodation, transportation)?; what’s the return on investment for partner (e.g. government) contributions?; what time of the year would the event be held?; and does it fill a need period, drive compression, generate incremental visitation, etc.?”
You may be aware that government has launched a consultation process to ascertain whether the new Major Events MRDT (MEMRDT) program (up to an additional 2.5% MRDT on accommodation) implemented within the City of Vancouver to offset expenses for the FIFA World Cup, is a revenue tool that other communities could use to help with the costs of hosting a major event. TIABC, along with the BC Destination Marketing Organization Association (BCDMOA), and the BC Hotel Association (BCHA) are working on a submission due on December 29th with policy recommendations to provide industry’s perspective on MEMRDT. Candidly, while there may be some advantages to the program, there are also many concerns identified by our respective members. Stay tuned for further information early in the new year.
I am still a fan of the Olympic games and have had the good fortune to attend four Olympics (Calgary, Torino, Beijing, Vancouver), as well as speak about the 2010 Winter Games to audiences in France, Denmark, Spain, Brazil and elsewhere. Someday I hope to attend another summer or winter Olympics, preferably in my home province where I am confident we have the infrastructure, expertise and capacity to host this major event again.