Large-scale events such as a World Expo or the Olympics bring the host city into the global spotlight. With vast numbers of visitors flooding these host cities, there are opportunities for great business successes as well as catastrophic logistical and financial hazards.
While Vancouver is now in the aftermath of a successful yet hugely expensive Winter Olympics, London professionals are thinking about how they will cut themselves a slice of the 2012 pie.
What can London learn from Vancouver in time to hold the 2012 games in the best possible way?
At a panel session organised by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), those involved in different aspects of the Vancouver and London Olympics exchanged views and insight.
VP of sales for the Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC), Claire Smith, said the venue was a little slow on the uptake when it came to branding opportunities.
“The biggest lesson we learned was that there was a huge branding opportunity for our building and we didn’t really think through how the VCC was going to be an iconic heart of the event,” she says.
“It almost became a religious symbol for the games. We had people coming by the thousands to see it. I don’t know that we really thoroughly understood the power of this symbol.”
"The whole city infrastructure was completely overwhelmed."
Other than missed branding opportunities, one of Smith’s chief concerns for London is for the challenge of having proper infrastructure in place to accommodate and transport the throngs of visitors.
“This is bigger than what we imagined and it was about more than a sporting event,” she says.
“The whole city infrastructure was completely overwhelmed. The Winter Olympics are obviously a much smaller scene than the summer Games, so the congestion in London is going to be profound. It’s a bigger city yes, but venues are spread out further. Logistically, it’s going to be a challenge for moving people around,” she adds.
Former Olympic gold-medallist Jill Savery is now 2012 project manager for the BioRegional Development Group in London. She believes an aspect mostly overlooked in Vancouver was the targeting of specific demographics of visitor, such as the families of athletes and the support teams for each country.
Also, the teams will be arriving in London well before the beginning of the Games. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who are going to be coming through here in the next two years,” she says. “Each team visit is like running a huge event in itself.”
The legacy of each Olympic venue was decided as part of the planning stage.
The Olympic Stadium will have its upper tier removed, leaving a 25,000-person capacity sports venue and including a sports-focused school for 14- to 19-year olds.
The International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre will become almost 75,000sqm of ‘business opportunity’. The MPC will provide around 24,000sqm of commercial floor space.
Arena Three, due to hold the handball preliminary rounds, modern pentathlon fencing and Paralympic goalball, will become a flexible sports facility and events venue.
One lasting and oft-overlooked legacy of any Olympic Games is the skill-set and experience that come from hosting such a huge international event.
From finding branding opportunities to identifying the smaller demographics in throngs of Olympic visitors, London event organisers and entrepreneurs should think about the lessons learned in Vancouver as 2012 approaches.