New Orleans There is no bigger industrial tourism hustle than what we witness with regularity around the hype connected to major international sporting events. The Olympics are grand quadrennial fare with plenty of “bread” for the masses and are quite moving for the athletes, as indicated by NBA and USA center, Tyson Chandler’s comment that getting a medal felt like someone was “pouring hot water down his back.” Meanwhile the rest of us are being taken to ice cold showers.
Once again, the Olympics were a major league bust for the host city. This may come as a surprise, but there’s no news there. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi recently were also a billion dollar fiasco once again proving that “if you build it, they will NOT come!” Television is trumping tourism, even though the sales pitch by the promoters and industrial tourism developers are chock full of sky high projections about the number of tourists that will travel to the games and swell city and commercial coffers. Reality shows it simply is not happening. London spent between an admitted $14 billion and an estimated $20 billion in getting ready for the Olympic Games, but to quote John Burns in the New York Times “fears of the Gridlock Games have transformed into complaints about the Ghost Town Olympics.” London experienced the usual situation ignoring “the lessons of other Olympic host cities that have emptied out during the Games over the past 20 years.”
How do they get away with it? The official spin is always that these expenditures will pay off in the future, but what’s the real story?
It is impossible to believe that the promoters and public officials are not winking-and-nodding in concert here as they pull the wool over the biscuit eaters paying the bills. Part of this is easy to understand, because there is no harder sell than the need to hunker down to pay for “infrastructure improvements.” In tough times what citizen wants to have to double down to pay for bricks-and-mortar? What mayor, governor, or higher wants to risk fame and future just to ensure better mass transit, better roads, and the rest? The promoters and politicians are easily complicit on industrial tourism. Big time sports and the publicity and media that come with it, tart up the package enough that no one looks too long at the final bill and long term payment plans. The developers, contractors, and construction folks cover the blowback for the politicians by being able to back slap about the improved image of the city or the prospects for the future as part of the corporate cushion.
One-time events like the Super Bowl are corporate fandangos so they fill the planes and party locations while the fans watch on TV and understand that is their due. Even World Cup events leave cities groping for explanations on the costs, as proven by Johannesburg and South Africa last time around, where the endgame rationalizations, as usual, centered on the increased appeal of South Africa in the global tourism market. I would love to see the figures that have made Jo-burg a destination tourism location since the World Cup. Now we have Rio de Janeiro at war in the favelas as it prepares for both the next World Cup and the next Olympics. Brazil fortunately has a strong economy, but so did India two years ago.
The real Olympic dreams are clearly not those of the athletes, but of the developers and the promoters, and theirs are the only ones coming true consistently with the politicians riding on their backs on the money train. There has to be a better, and more honest, way to build major infrastructure and support ALL of the population rather than the big boys.