If previous hosts a guide, Sochi will see tourism boost
“The image people had before was dry, white and Mormon,” said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake.
A dozen years later, Salt Lake City’s tourism industry is booming, and it continues to attract new business as a result of its Olympic makeover.
“In large measure, it comes from that first change in perception that happened immediately after the Olympics,” Beck said, citing the warm and friendly impression Salt Lake City made both on visitors to the games and those watching on TV.
“It’s been transformed to an exponential three,” Beck added. “The ripple effect has really been so large that it’s almost been hard for people to comprehend. And in areas where people aren’t normally considering.”
As Sochi nurses its post-Olympics hangover, the question becomes: Now what? Oh, sure. There are plans for the venues, some of which will be used as soon as next month, when the Paralympics begin March 7. The Olympic Park will be the site of the Russian Grand Prix, an F-1 race, in October.
But what about the host city, where organizers spent billions on infrastructure upgrades, hotels and transportation links to turn a beach resort into a year-round destination?
Nestled along the Black Sea, with the Caucasus Mountains less than an hour away, the combination of sand and snow set Sochi apart from other European playgrounds. But it’s also one of the southern-most points in Russia, a 2.5-hour flight from Moscow and directly reachable from only a few other European cities.
Have the Sochi Olympics been enough to entice people to come back and make the $51 billion price tag worth it? If the experiences of the previous four hosts of the Winter Games are a guide, the answer will be yes.
Turin was already a large, industrial city — the home of Fiat — before the games, while Vancouver was one of Canada’s biggest and most cosmopolitan cities. Salt Lake City and Nagano were smaller and in more remote areas of their countries. But figures provided by officials in Salt Lake City, Torino and Vancouver all show an increase in tourism that continues long after the flame is extinguished.
Tourism spending in Utah increased from $4 billion in 2001 to $7.6 billion in 2012, Beck said. Skier days, the industry term for guest visits, increased from 2.8 million to 4.2 million, he said.
In Turin, the number of visitors has almost doubled, going from a little over 550,000 in 2001 to more than a million in 2012. Piedmont, where the outdoor events were held, attracted almost 4.3 million visitors in 2012, according to figures from Turismo Torino.
Finally, in Vancouver, overnight visitors increased from 4.1 million in 2009 to 4.4 million in 2013.
“As host to the 2010 Games, British Columbia was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase international exposure and awareness of British Columbia,” Clare Mason, spokeswoman for Destination British Columbia, said in an email. “For those two weeks in February, with a worldwide audience of 3.5 billion, the eyes of the world were focused on British Columbia.”
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