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Feature - Chasing Olympic gold

Tallying up the balance sheet for businesses during the Winter Games

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Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.

For years business owners likely to be touched by the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games were told by officials that few make money when the Games come to town.

"What’s the point of having them?" many asked when told this startling fact.

The rationale, said officials, lies in a complicated set of data which shows that areas which host hallmark events enjoy greater numbers of visitors for the next five to 12 years.

"In the short term I think the Games are only part of where the gain has come from," said David Baird who heads up economic development for Salt Lake City’s Downtown Alliance.

"We have had invaluable global exposure of Salt Lake City, also Park City, so we are primed now for new development.

"We are also definitely on the radar screen for many, many more conventions."

Statistics show that more tourists went to Calgary in the years after the Games than would have been expected if the winter Olympics had not taken place in 1988. The same is true of tourist numbers to B.C. following Expo 86 in Vancouver.

Salt Lake is predicting the Games will generate US$2.5 billion in revenue over the next five years. They expected visitors to spend around US$348 million during the Games. The average cost of a room was expected to be US$205 per night and most people were expected to stay 7.7 nights.

Here at home, the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Bid Corporation and the provincial government have used their own figures to predict an economic legacy over 12 years of over CDN$3 billion.

If you add in revenue from a new Vancouver convention centre the net economic activity over 12 years is expected to be CDN$8.1 billion.

Many would argue the extra revenue may be offset by the cost to taxpayers of hosting such events.

According to the General Accounting Office, the Salt Lake Games cost US$342.2 million, although an investigative article in a recent Sports Illustrated suggested the Games cost the American public US$1.5 billion.

The 1988 Calgary Winter Games cost the taxpayers about CDN$500 million. The 2000 Sydney Summer Games, three times the size of a Winter Games, cost the public AUST$1.18 billion.

Others would argue it is worth the public expense to generate future revenue, and interest, and be part of such a spectacular and historic event.

Whistler and Vancouver won’t know until 2003 if they have won the right to host the 2010 Winter Games.

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