World Cup, Olympics, America’s Cup and the Reverse Tourism Effect

How quickly can you name the host for the last World Cup four years ago? Eight years ago? Was any non-soccer media coverage stimulating enough for you to book a vacation there?

Speaking of sports, we’ve seen the recent headlines: Krakow withdraws its bid for 2022 Winter Olympics, New York City rejects 2024 Summer Olympics, Bavarian and Swiss voters against bidding from Davos and Munich, Oslo and Stockholm pull out…nobody wants to host.

The traditional school of tourism destination thinking once had it that a host city garnered a tremendous legacy in its reputation, in receipts from visitor spending, and in transportation and infrastructure improvements for its residents, leaving a win/win after the medalists went home. Jean Drapeau, former mayor of Montreal, said that his city “could no more have a deficit than a man could have a baby.” In fact, their $1.5 billion 1976 Olympic Village debt was finally paid off three decades later.

The world’s biggest sporting events can actually hinder tourism to host cities. Hotel rooms, restaurants and tens of thousands of event seats went empty during the London 2012 Olympics. In San Francisco, protesters gathered at City Hall Plaza raising objections to footing the bill for an America’s Cup turnout that was more fizzle than sizzle. For the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona overspent by an astonishing 471 percent. And with its paint peeling, Beijing’s $423 million white elephant Olympic Stadium requires $10 million in annual maintenance.

Even the bidding process is expensive, as losers Chicago (2016) and New York City (2012) recently discovered. The USA hasn’t hosted Olympic Games since Salt Lake City (2002) and Atlanta (1996). With a price tag hovering around $10 billion, it’s no wonder Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC and LA are still mulling it over for 2024, according to a recent ESPN report on these USOC finalists.

Hence the prospects of long-shots such as Almaty, Kazakhstan are rising. However, we’d venture a guess that not many international travelers have Almaty on their bucket lists of must-go places.

What of Brazil tourism in the aftermath of the World Cup? What about the 147 hotels newly built in 12 host cities throughout Brazil? What if World Cup travelers have come for the soccer only without extending stays to explore the vast country where an inflated Real means hang onto your wallets.

If soccer super fans are primarily event-goers who booked expensive packages featuring roundtrip flights, accommodation and stadium seats, the stadium is about all they’ll see. Meantime, independent travelers avoid Brazil this summer. Residents of London, San Francisco and South Africa, the 2012 World Cup host, can attest to that.

Will you be packing your bags for Rio in 2016, Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022?

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