Global sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics can be a powerful shot in the arm for tourism but the effects can vanish soon after the fans’ cheers fall silent.

Industry experts at the Berlin tourism fair (ITB), one of the sector’s largest gatherings, stressed Friday that there was no guarantee of a boost for the host country from a giant sporting event.

While European capitals such as Paris and Berlin weigh a possible bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, Rome has already thrown its hat in the ring with hopes of welcoming supporters from around the world to the Eternal City. 

Meanwhile London after its 2012 Olympics extravaganza and previous football World Cup hosts Brazil and South Africa offer their own object lessons, presenting a decidedly mixed picture.

In South Africa, tourism “took a leap in 2010 and then it flattened a little bit after, but then from that higher basis, it continued growing,” said Derek Hanekom, the country’s tourism minister.

Estimates of the tourist influx generated by that year’s World Cup range from 100,000 to 200,000, said Wolfgang Maennig of the University of Hamburg in northern Germany at an ITB conference on the subject.

However the explosion in flight and hotel prices linked to such events can have the opposite effect and drive away potential visitors.

Tom Rostek of travel company Dertour said championship organisers are often to blame for reserving blocks of hotel rooms, “up to 80 percent” in the case of the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro in July.  

In the end, they may not even be used but the practice serves to send prices for the remaining accommodations soaring, “potentially scaring people off”, Rostek said. 

The impact can be particularly acute in cities that were already popular as a tourist destination, especially if the event takes place during the high season.

London, for example, lost 350,000 overnight stays at the time of the 2012 Olympics compared to previous summers.

On the upside, however, the visitors in town for the Olympics spent much more than average tourists, Maennig said. 

– Image polish –

And while host cities rarely escape articles forecasting doom and gloom before the global sport establishment pitches up, once the first whistle is blown the media coverage tends to be enormous and often glowing.

“There is an undoubted impact in terms of publicity,” said Iris Gleicke, parliamentary state secretary at the German economy ministry.

Germany welcomed an additional 100,000 tourists during the 2006 World Cup. It was fewer than expected, but the effect of showing a “welcoming image” has transformed perceptions of the country abroad, she noted.

It’s not even essential to organise an event on your home turf to bask in its glory.

The surprise arrival of the Costa Rican national team in the quarterfinals of the last World Cup was “very positive” for the country, said its tourism minister, Wilhelm von Breymann. 

“Now people no longer know us only for the beauty of the country and coffee, but also for football,” he said. 

Beyond an image polish, big events of course prompt investment in infrastructure, said the sales director of the Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau, Michael Nagy, whose city will also be hosting the Olympics next year.

“In 2016, we will have a city capable of welcoming all the kinds of tourists we didn’t have before,” he said.

“Museums are built, cultural events take place. Before, people went to Europe for all that.”

Sports facilities, public transport networks and new hotels — “these investments were planned in any case but this gave us the opportunity to do it faster,” said Vinicius Nobre Lages, Brazil’s tourism minister. 

Meanwhile down the corridor at the sprawling ITB, the Russian stand offered brochures boasting spa hotels, large car parks and gleaming conference rooms in Sochi, the Black Sea resort which held the Winter Olympics last year. 

But the country’s tourism agency says it is still too early to know what sort of success the facilities will have now that the winter sports fans and competitors are gone. – Agence France-Presse

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