How do major events influence tourism?

How can the impact of major events such as the Olympic Games of World Cup be measured against the success or failure for a tourism destination? Well, that can depend on whether you see the glass half-empty or half-full.

Our industry is very good and finding excuses for under-performance; Avarian flu for Sydney, not enough money left to promote Greece… Beijing? They didn’t care one way or the other.

There are some success stories, and opinions differ on what the success factors are. Barcelona is often quoted as one of them, while this is true, cannot be seen in isolation as and there were a number of factors that helped them succeed; one of which was the advent soon after the Olympic Games in 1992 of more European low cost airlines that suddenly meant we could travel there for next to nothing and the other was a city that capitalised on this with aggressive marketing that communicated how a city had re-invented itself.

The other success story was the World Cup that Germany hosted in 2006. It was expected to be a well organised event, but that was all. What followed was a tournament unparalleled in economic and legacy success and the Brits more than anyone were delighted at what they found. This has resulted in some very strange advertising campaigns that lack any irony, but are still doing the job of attracting more visitors.

So now South Africa blames the economic climate as UK visitors stay away, yet it is widely accepted that few destinations show any real growth in the period following the hosting of a major event and can to some extent suffer from destination fatigue. Australia had negative growth for up to two years after the Sydney Games. Sorry!

And now London is heading at full pelt down the Olympic road as we brace ourselves for London 2012. Promoted as a country-wide event, most of the action will take place in London. The main stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre have been built in a part of the city that has been historically deprived and in need of improved facilities and housing for the locals and potential visitors. South and East London will be left with a vastly improved infrastructure (as Cape Town and other cities have), that wouldn’t have been in place otherwise. The athlete’s village will provide over 2800 housing units and Olympic park even more green space for a city of 7.7 million.

There is a lot of nonsense quoted from the great and the good of tourism (who should know better), about what is or isn’t going to happen, and they talk up the numbers and impact (sound familiar?), but our industry is muted. Apart from the odd destination in some long-forgotten part of the country that has its Olympic strategy in place, I think our industry is too busy with the daily grind to really notice. Our domestic market is booming so business is good for suppliers. Maybe it would all be different if this wasn’t the case.

The demand for tickets is encouraging, and London is so vast it can cope with additional visitors – August being the holiday month so lots of locals escape to the continent anyway. VisitBritain views the Olympics as just another of the great events taking place in the UK; the Royal Wedding this year, the queen’s golden jubilee and the Olympics next year.

The legacy for the event has not been fully developed, but the country should benefit anyway, given the base line for tourism visits to London alone averages 30 million each year. The impact, positive or negative, will not be so keenly felt.

My verdict: mega events are good as they put in place deadlines for major enhancement that no tourism industry could ever fulfil. Seize the opportunities they bring; this may mean ditching past promotional messages and investing in new and more compelling reasons for visitors to make that trip. They bring disparate industries together for the time it takes to promote and make it a success. London will do well, as visitors will continue to visit as it’s a top world city – the test I believe is whether the rest of the UK will see any legacy benefits? I suspect not. Not in the short term anyway.

*These views are held by the author, Mary Tebje. Whether you agree or disagree, you can join the debate by sending an email to or interacting with @SeeTheSights on Twitter.

Mary Tebje is the UK Representative for Cape Town Tourism.

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