Ralf Garrison: Oly afterglow for Vancouver?
With the Olympics behind us, we offer a reflective look at their impact on the mountain travel industry. The Games ended with record numbers of medals for both the U.S. (37: 9 gold/15 silver/13 bronze) and Canada (26: 14 gold/7 silver/5 bronze). This remarkable show of strength and the related buzz undoubtedly bodes well for North American mountain/winter sports, but what other kinds of “Olympic Gold” might mountain destinations mine from a North American winter event of this magnitude? Since MTRiP is in the business of keeping score of the economics of destination mountain travel, I’ll combine my insights with those of MTRiP’s director of operations Tom Foley, a Vancouver native still located nearby.
Ralf: As spectator in the U.S. Rocky Mountains, reliant on Internet sources, U.S. media coverage and an extensive grapevine in various mountain towns, I’m impressed by the performance by the North American athletes and the positive association it brings the ski industry. Olympic heroes are plentiful, producing important equity with a younger generation of prospective skiers and boarders needed to replace the graying baby boomer market.
I’m reminded that the Olympics have morphed into a “made for TV” experience, with a worldwide audience and long-term equity often eclipsing short-term benefit. History demonstrates normal visitation patterns are disturbed by a phenomenon called “Olympic Aversion,” in which the perceptions of prices, crowds and hassles discourage potential guests. This disrupts the host destination’s tourism base, yielding fewer short-term benefits than one might expect.
In reality, more time is necessary to assess the full economic equity of the Games. As Dave Brownlie, president and chief operating officer of Whistler/Blackcomb explained in BusinessWeek, “It’s not just the 17 days of the Olympics, it’s the 17 years afterwards.”
Tom: As a Vancouverite, a skier and an Olympic attendee, my challenge is to look beyond the entertainment distractions and biased Canadian pride in an effort to try to understand more about the impact of the Games on the Vancouver area. Since most consumers’ Olympic experience is a media one, I think we should examine how varying editorial viewpoints can influence the event’s legacy. Benefiting from a variety of coverage, my viewing experience has been panoramic. While most of the message has been global sport and competition, a few personal experiences conveyed the power a story’s angle can have. For instance, a group comprised of Europeans, Asians and a few proud hosts including myself listened with interest as their counterparts from the U.S. related “shock” at the outstanding conditions on Blackcomb that day – they expected mud rather than the fresh powder they enjoyed. Apparently, warm weather has been a passing story in many circles and headline news in others.
The Olympics are a gamble, proven time and again by host city’s difficulties in turning the event into a legacy. “Olympic aversion” can overcome the immediate marketing benefits associated with the Games, and it appears the same consumer who balked before and during the Park City and Turin (Torino) games is present, or rather missing, in British Columbia. Research indicates this aversion is based on a “sense” rather than factual information about the consequences a region experiences prior to the event. The venues themselves undertook aggressive education campaigns targeting core customers with some success, but evidence suggests that the Games provide an opportunity for non-hosting communities to pursue the “displaced” consumers in the surrounding months and season.
One would guess the hours of primetime coverage, magnificent venues and gallery of Olympic heroes would inspire visitors to hit the slopes, but what we can anecdotally quantify is, well, not so much. Most resorts in our confidence have yet to see any direct effect on either occupancy or reservation volume attributed to the Games. Furthermore, at this point, we’ve only seen a few related Olympic promotional efforts from other destination resorts, who could presumably take advantage of Olympic momentum to gain some additional occupancy during the balance of an admittedly anemic season.
The lack of quantifiable short-term benefit leaves the discussion of the Games’ economic legacy to be resolved over the months and years to come. Yet whether in the euphoria of success or agony of defeat, the incredible qualities of the human spirit shown throughout the Olympics shine as brightly as the Olympic torch, illuminating the U.S., Canada and all winter mountain sports in the process.
Ralf Garrison is the founder and director of the Advisory Group, which provides marketing services to destination resorts around the country, owning and operating the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) and the Mountain Travel Symposium. You can contact Ralf at email@example.com.
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