Last month the eyes of the world were glued on China as the Summer Olympics unfolded in Beijing. Like each one before it, the global sports fest has the drawing power to attract visitors from all corners of the earth to the host city for two weeks of awe-inspiring athletic competition. But beyond its immediate appeal, the Olympics provide incredible exposure for the host city and country leading up to the Games and for years afterwards. That’s a reality Torontonians are sadly reminded of as many of the city’s stakeholders continue to ask, What if we hadn’t lost the bid for the 2008 Olympics?

Fortunately that’s not something British Columbians have to worry about as the province rounds the home stretch leading into the 2010 Winter Olympics. Already, the magnitude of being awarded the Games is clear as the city’s infrastructure continues to strengthen (expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre has tripled the size of the facility, a light rail transportation system has been built, the Sea to Sky Highway has been expanded and a dozen hotels are projected to open their doors before 2010).

While the costs and benefits of hosting the Olympics is a contentious issue at best, one can’t ignore the potential spin-off effects. According to statistics from the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC), the 2010 Olympics could generate as much as $10.7 billion. More than 80 countries will participate in the Winter Games with some 350,000 visitors expected to attend. From a public relations point of view, a total of 10,000 media representatives are scheduled to cover the spectacle.

As part of the CTC’s strategy for the Games, the objectives are clear: differentiate Canada in a manner relevant to consumers; add depth and dimension to Canada’s image as a tourism destination; accelerate the building of a bold tourism personality for the country; ensure the Olympics have a lasting positive effect on Canada’s tourism sector; and support VANOC’s goal of promoting the games as “Canada’s Games” and its commitment to applying sustainability principles and practices.    

For Vancouver and Canada, our time to shine is near. As John Furlong, 2010 Games chief organizer, stated in a recent article in Tourism magazine: “We are going to speak to the world; it’s an opportunity like no other. They are coming, and they’re watching on TV, so it’s all up to us.” Yet if we are to take full advantage of this opportunity to grow global awareness of Canada’s brand, that brand has to be more compelling than ever, and each facet of our tourism infrastructure needs to be firing on all cylinders.  

As Furlong says, with an estimated three billion pairs of eyes focused on Canada for 17 consecutive days, we must “Seize those eyes with compelling images and stories during the Games and eventually convert that attention to enquiries and sales.” Let the marketing begin.   


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