Vancouver Olympics and BC Tourism

The Olympic and Paralympic Games — that was quite a party for British Columbia! But now that both of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are over, it’s time to reconsider the impact of hosting the event.

It certainly costs a lot of money (as much as $6 billion depending on who’s doing the counting). Studies of the usual economic impact of the Games suggest a payback in gross domestic product of anywhere from $2 billion to $10.7 billion – which is definitely a decent return on investment at the high end, but it would be a dead loss at the other. Time will tell as the statistics roll in.

However, there’s another important side of the ledger because much of the money was used to purchase hard assets which will have enduring value. These will help the city and province realize social, environmental and economic goals. And then, of course, there was the inestimable value of fostering community and inclusion of various groups – especially the Four Host First Nations tribes.

In any case, we won’t know the real benefit which the Games delivered until we have more data, and that will be a long time coming.

We have some hints — for example, Tourism Vancouver along with Tourism BC and Tourism Whistler surveyed 2,500 people standing in lineups at various Olympic and Paralympic venues. The volunteers asked whether the experience has met their visitors’ expectations; whether they’d come back; whether they’d like to receive information about British Columbia on a continuing basis and whether they would agree to a followup interview after they return home (80% agreed).

That’s how tourism officials will finally quantify the lasting impact of this international exposure. If long-term tourism benefits, that will be HUGE for BC. And, certainly, I hope you will consider British Columbia as a destination, for it’s beautiful and filled with promise of a great time.

The formula used to measure the value of tourism is the number of visitors, times the length of stay, times the amount spent daily and in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission, there were 407,900 visits to B.C. from the United States. The average stay was 3.6 days and the average spent per day was $154, for a total of just over $226 million. In the same period, there were 215,200 overseas visitors, who stayed on average 18.7 days, and spent an average of $87 per day, for a total of $350 million. It seems that Tourism BC has the quick visiting Americans and the longer-stay Asians and Europeans (mostly). This requires a different approach and set of experiences offered for a 3 1/2 day visit versus an 18 1/2 days visit!

There are some indicators that forecasts of 250,000 visitors to the Games were met and actually superceded by a large margin. This is partially measured by how local tourism ambassadors roving the streets met on average 500 people during each four-hour shift, and 6,800 visitors sought information at the agency’s main office in the first 2 weeks of February 2010 compared with 2,800 in all of February 2009.

During the first week of the Games, Tourism Vancouver serviced five times the normal volume of visitors. Canada’s Northern House welcomed more than 70, 000 visitors, and LiveCity drew 25,000 a day at Yaletown. Hotels that were previously at 55% capacity before the Games were 98% filled on the eve of competition, which is why you must always book early to attend these events or when you know you have to be in a City holding such an event as huge as the Games are.

On Feb. 11, Vancouver International Airport recorded the arrival of 160 private planes, the most ever on a single day, and March 1, at the Olympic Games portion completion, was expected to be its busiest day in history with 50 per cent more people and 70 per cent more baggage than has been handled previously. It all went very smoothly, and that’s kudos!

Meeting planners can have a 10-year horizon, so again long-time impact remains to be seen. But, Vancouver, BC showed well and proved it could handle anything! So, you may well be attending a conference or other set of meeting s there in the near future as meeting planners have paid attention. Even the head of Expedia was in town.

And 174 million Americans watched the Vancouver Games on NBC through the first 12 days, 24 per cent more than the entire last season of American Idol, and it was 20 per cent higher than the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. I am sure that Americans unfamiliar with BC will be impressed, and being able to drive there and camp or find reasonable motels, especially in small towns will be a big draw for stressed and frugally-forced American travelers.

The vice-president of travel with Tourism Vancouver, said the global TV audience is 2.5 billion and that 15,000 accredited journalists and other media workers spread the message of Vancouver’s – and B. C.’s – beauty, cuisine, culture and lifestyle. It is also been the most blogged and tweeted Olympics in history. That will result in more vacations and conferences there, for sure, unlike what Beijing or Turin could expect.

The Olympic venues were also used for strengthening BC’s business production, orders and exports. Both the forest industry and high-tech companies displayed their wares and were meeting with venture capitalists. BC industry needs the jump-start.

Vancouver Economic Development Commission learned that Olympic hosts often see a 15% to 20% increase in exports, so they began targeting global companies and invited 75 of them involved in aviation, business services, wireless communications, film production, digital media, engineering, e-learning and more to meet and greet local businesses during the Games. PricewaterhouseCooperswill report on an impact study in early 2012.

Vancouverites may have discovered during the Games that cycling is a wonderful way to avoid traffic snarls, parking issues and fuel costs. If it’s a lasting habit, that results in cheaper transportation, great exercise and no pollution – that’s priceless, personally and to the community planning.

Similarly, the Canada Line may persuade hundreds, maybe even thousands of Vancouverites, that public transit beats driving to work. Same benefits could amount to billions of dollars in savings.

Has the preparation for and hosting of the Games made Vancouver an even better place to live and to visit? Absolutely, yes, beyond a doubt. Come see for yourself!

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