The impact of the Olympic Games to a host city is detrimental, according to data obtained by the European Tour Operators Association.

The impact of the Olympic Games to a host city is detrimental, according to data obtained by the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA).

Noting that one of the benefits claimed for the Olympic Games is a boost in tourism to the host city, ETOA says this boost is wholly illusory, according to the association’s data. Indeed. says ETOA, there are indications that the impact of the Olympic Games is detrimental.


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). Whilst 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 is particularly striking, says ETOA. From the spring of 2008 international visitor arrivals to Beijing plummeted and in the month before the Games, they were 30 per cent down on the previous year. In the months after the Games the tourism slump continued, with international arrivals more than 20 per cent down (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Yearly change in overseas visitor numbers (source: CNTA and Singapore Tourist Board at http://app.stb.gov.sg/asp/tou/tou0201.asp), showing a dramatic slump in tourism to Beijing, 30 per cent down on the previous year one month before the Olympic Games, nearly 10 per cent down during the Games and 25 per cent down the month after the Games

Figure 1: Yearly change in overseas visitor numbers (source: CNTA and Singapore Tourist Board at http://app.stb.gov.sg/asp/tou/tou0201.asp), showing a dramatic slump in tourism to Beijing, 30 per cent down on the previous year one month before the Olympic Games, nearly 10 per cent down during the Games and 25 per cent down the month after the Games

While the association says the data needs to be seen in context ― 2008 was not a strong year for tourism in the whole Asia Pacific region ― ETOA notes Beijing fared considerably worse than the rest of China. Demand for mainland China may have fallen by 2 per cent, but Beijing lost 18 per cent of its prior year’s total, according to ETOA.

Over the past two decades tourism has grown consistently on a worldwide basis. As a consequence, says ETOA, one would expect most cities to show tourism growth year on year. But for the Olympic cities, tourism growth tends to be stalled and the stall becomes most apparent when a comparison is made with competitor destinations, the association says.

For example, in the five years prior to the Olympics, Australia’s and New Zealand’s tourism was growing at the same rate but Australia’s growth lost ground significantly straight after the Olympics. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2: Indexed data showing visitor arrivals to Australia and New Zealand, showing that tourism growth to Australia stalled directly after the Olympics in 2000, whereas tourism growth to New Zealand continued

Figure 2: Indexed data showing visitor arrivals to Australia and New Zealand, showing that tourism growth to Australia stalled directly after the Olympics in 2000, whereas tourism growth to New Zealand continued

According to ETOA, it is clear that the Olympics did not materially help Australian tourism, or if it did, it made very little difference. Sydney’s tourism performance after the Olympics even under-performed against the rest of Australia. The situation became so pronounced that Australia ran an advertising campaign to promote itself as a destination with the now-infamous slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?”

“Every city is unique, and each city handles the Olympics in its own way. But we have yet to have a games where tourism has not been disrupted, and disrupted in a way that causes real harm,” says Tom Jenkins, executive director of ETOA. “Even in the case of Athens, where they carefully restricted new capacity, there were considerable losses before and after the games both in the Capital and throughout Greece.”

For London, the news from Beijing is concerning. Last year London had nearly 15 million visitors, bringing in over ₤8 billion (IPS, Office for National Statistics, 2009). 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 ₤1.5 billion, says ETOA.