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The Search for Olympic Riches

By Claude Adams

Three years after the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, a Utah furniture dealer was meeting with a group of visiting businesspeople representing the Vancouver Board of Trade. They had come to learn more about how a community can benefit from a world-class event like the Olympics. When the visitors asked him if having the Games in his state helped his business, the dealer grinned, shook his head and said, “Latvians don’t buy sofas.” Embedded in the joke was a truism that most B.C. businesses should take to heart as the 2010 Games unfold in Vancouver and Whistler: if you were hoping for a windfall of wild and reckless spending from the expected 250,000 visitors, you’ll probably be disappointed. For the most part, business spinoffs will be modest, of limited duration and selective. Hotels, restaurants, ski resorts and security services will do very well, thank you. They always do in mega-events. But even in these sectors, once the Latvians, Americans, Germans and other foreign visitors go home in March, things could get very, very quiet. That sofa may be sitting in your showroom window for another year or so.

The moral: trim your Olympic expectations. And take the long view. “People aren’t coming from around the world to buy furniture or artwork but to enjoy the Games,” says Bernie Magnan, chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade. “If you can get them to come back, that’s when you might get them to spend a whole lot of money.” In other words, make them feel good while they’re here and don’t block their views of the breathtaking images of Whistler and English Bay – then maybe they’ll return someday as visitors, investors or entrepreneurs. That’s when the Latvians might open their wallets.

Read the entire article here in BC Business magazine.

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