In theory, one of the benefits of the Olympic Games is a boost in tourism to the host city. This boost, according to data obtained by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), is wholly illusory. Indeed there are indications that the impact of the Olympic Games lost rather than gained tourists.
ETOA has looked at visitor arrival statistics for the past Olympics in Beijing (’08), Athens (’04), Sydney (2000), Atlanta (’96), Barcelona (’92), and Seoul (’88). While some of these games saw a peak in demand during the games, all saw a major disruption to their normal tourism market and none revealed any conspicuous tourism growth.
The latest data from Beijing shows that from the spring of 2008, international visitor arrivals to Beijing plummeted, and in the month before the Games, they were down 30% from the previous year. In the months after the Games, the tourism slump continued with international arrivals down more than 20%.
The data needs to be seen in context. 2008 was not a strong year for tourism in the whole Asia Pacific region, but Beijing fared considerably worse than the rest of China: demand for Mainland China may have fallen by 2% but Beijing lost 18%.
Over the past two decades, tourism has grown consistently on a worldwide basis. As a consequence, one would expect most cities to show tourism growth year on year. For the Olympic cities, tourism growth tends to be stalled and the stall becomes most apparent when a comparison is made with competitor destinations.
Vanguard reports that for London, due to hold the next Olympics, the news from Beijing is concerning. Last year, London had nearly 15 million visitors, bringing in over $16 billion. It is already bracing itself for an influx of atypical visitors during the games, whose spending habits are not those of usual tourists. If London followed the pattern of Beijing, it could see over 2.5 million fewer visitors at a loss of $3 billion.