Olympics 2012 is a once in a lifetime event with significant implications for the south east. The games will generate £2 Billion to the UK economy. It will result in two types of tourism, namely Olympics related tourism involving athletes, officials, sponsors, spectators the media, in the run up and during the games. The other type of tourism is Olympics motivated tourism, which is the impact of the games as performers and spectators discover other parts of the host country and then motivate friends and relatives to visit those places. Olympic related tourism will have an immediate impact but Olympics motivated tourism has a longer term impact and it is estimated that it will account for two thirds of the growth in tourism as a result of the games. Oxfordshire could benefit from both forms of tourism, the scale of which depends on how the county and city councils, businesses and institutions exploit the opportunities provided by the games and the capacity of the infrastructure.
Oxfordshire, which is within commutable distance to London with rich mix of activities and visitor attractions, could see significant spill over as the audience look for accommodation, food and entertainment other than the games. While there is awareness among officials, businesses and institutions about the potential benefits of the Olympics they are yet to put into place a concerted effort to maximize the benefits to the county or designate a project manager. This is partly because there is still time – the games are two years away. Oxfordshire has not yet been designated as a host for any of the events, 2012 being also Diamond Jubilee year, council officials have also been busy making preparations for the anniversary.
In an interview with Richard Munro, Head of Community Services, he stated that the county will aim to raise its profile during the games. Dominant themes include the aim to get young people more involved in sports and engaging with young people from other countries. County officials are holding meetings with businesses to consult and encourage them to tender for games related services and to exploit other opportunities. Officials have put in a request for the Olympic torch to go through the county, highlighting Iffley sports grounds, where Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile record. The county is backing the two bids for training camps in Oxfordshire. Oxfordshire has a strong case to hold the Equestrian competition and its excellent sporting facilities could be used as training grounds for national teams.
Efforts will be made to link the seventy five local festivals that take place in the county every year to the Olympics. Events that could benefit from such links include “Our Sporting Lives” an exhibition from Henley that will be touring the country and the Henley Festival. The Ark, an environmental and arts project involving schools could also benefit significantly from the games. Oxford Inspires will be organising a cultural Olympiad, highlighting and promoting cultural events.
The county is working with neighbours in the Thames valley on joint Olympic related projects. Downey Lake, which is part of Eton School, is the venue for the rowing events. Officials are discussing with Buckinghamshire the possibility of utilizing the Lake which is just over the border, for Olympic related activities. Stoke Mandeville Hospital, near Aylesbury, is the home of the Paralympic Games, and could play a part in the games.
The event will impact on the hotel, transport and restaurants sectors. The county’s hotels and bed and breakfasts can cope with additional demands, with Oxford city occupancy for June, July and August at 77%, 79% and 59% (average for last three years) respectively. September could be tight when occupancy rises to 85%. The Kassam stadium hotel project will see some additional capacity in the run up to the games. In Oxford, the universities, colleges and private landlords will have accommodation during summer vacation. Occupancy figures outside Oxford are not likely to be so high which means the county should cope with up to 30 – 35% increase in visitors during the games. Transport links could be more of a problem with the M40 congested and because the recent trend has seen significant increases in rail traffic. A major beneficiary of the games will be Oxford- London airport where it is projected that flights are likely to double from 20/day to 40/day. The airport is undertaking a major development to increase its capacity as part of its long term plans and will therefore be prepared for the huge increase in VIP traffic. One major drawback though is that the only heliport in London, in Battersea, is not ideal. The airport has been discussing with the Department of Transport about opening another heliport in East London to cater for the significant traffic that the games will generate.
The “light touch” approach by council officials is the only game in town as all councils face budget constraints imposed by the government. Furthermore, unlike the American system where there is a local tax which means more visitors translates into increased local government revenue, there is no such link. Performance indicators showing how well the council meets its obligations do not include visitor numbers. Consequently, the model adopted for the Destination Management Organisation is the most appropriate, with businesses matching funds to market the county for the Olympics.
County and city officials can still make a positive impact even with limited budgets. They need to designate a project manager, provide relevant information to businesses, and institutions, lobby and market the county for it to be used as a host for events and training by national teams, lobby for transport projects that will improve access between London and the county. Officials should discuss with train and bus operators about the possibility of increasing capacity through more trains and busses leading to more frequent service. Officials could also support the efforts of the airport for a heliport in East London. This is particularly relevant to the county which could see many VIPs and heads of states choosing to make the county their base – if they can travel in the style accustomed to. Businesses and institutions need to be more proactive and ensure that they can make use of opportunities in managing Olympic projects and by getting plugged into the Olympics loop so that they can get information about opportunities, get alerted about latest developments and for hotels and catering establishments so that they are visible when visitors are making decisions on the Olympics.