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Community Rights to Leverage the Olympic Visitors Economy
This year the IOA’s 60th Session focuses on human rights. As part of this“rights-based agenda”, I will speak on “community rights”. Community rights, particularly the rights of those situated at the heart of a host city, can easily be misunderstood, deprioritised, or simply ignored in the melee of planning and staging the Olympics. I would need an entire PhD thesis (or two) to illustrate how and explain the numerous reasons why this happens. However, a few examples include: i) community displacement and disruption as a result of building infrastructure required to stage, right through to the way the host city becomes “zoned” (i.e. split into discrete areas where official sporting, cultural and commercial activity takes place). It is the way Olympic cities become zoned, and how neighbouring communities are typically side-lined, albeit temporarily, through the immediate periods before, during and after the Opening and Closing ceremonies. Yet, whilst the talk starts with this critique (as most empirical work to date supports this line of argument), my work on the ground throughout the live staging of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games provides, in part, a counter to this widely held view by critics. I outline my line of argument below, in a simple way, that follows a similar approach to my recorded talk which the link for is provided at the end of this piece. start with a somewhat axiomatic point: Throughout the live staging period, the Olympics present numerous entrepreneurial opportunities related to the incoming event visitor economy (e.g. domestic visitors and international tourists descending on the city). However, an overwhelming body of empirical work illustrates that external interests (e.g. official sponsors) often reap these economic benefits, for the most part, more than internal interests (e.g. local businesses or entrepreneurial types located in neighbouring communities outside of Olympic zones). I note below two central reasons for this.
The first is that there is a nascent body of evidence that has found – and suggests – that sport event tourists are not your typical cultural tourists. They do not necessarily seek novel cultural experiences in comparison to those who travel to a city for non-sports events (colloquially, these are sometimes referred to as “culture vultures” who wish to soak in the sights, some of whom seek close interactions with local inhabitants). Therefore, sport event tourists appear to be less likely to engage and spend beyond temporarily constructed “Olympic zones”. This is a problem when, by and large, the “host community” (for sake of parsimony I brashly use this concept to refer to local residents, businesses, cultural attractions et cetera) expects a large spill out of visitors into their communities, back-street cafes, and local retail districts. You don’t have to look far to see that this projected spill out is simply an illusion (just Google “deserted London Olympic city”), much to the dismay of locals looking to (and often promised that they will be able to) make a quick buck. This first reason is a “behavioural” factor, or in other words what the visitor decides to do when visiting an Olympic city.
The second relates to “organisational” factors. Or in other words, what do event owners or organisers do to influence a visitor’s behaviour? A good example of this, as I note above, is the urban restructuring of the city known as zoning. However, this is just one of many organisational factors. For example, the city’s transportation networks are reconfigured to provide smoother and more efficient flows between official event zones. Additionally, official zones housing sporting, cultural and commercial activity are animated, made fun, and mimic a “total institution” (a space whereby the consumer can sustain requirements and desires without ever, really, needing to leave – apart from in this case to go back to hotels, that ironically, may well be within the zones anyway). Indeed, there are many more factors, such as new temporary regulations that secure exclusivity for sponsors to prohibit ambush marketing, as well as the peddling of non-officially sanctioned products like those produced by internal stakeholders like the host community. Simply put, owners and organisers, whether they know it or not, restructure the city in a way that directly and indirectly reduces the chance that local businesses and entrepreneurial types will be able to leverage the Olympic visitor economy.
A “rights” issue?
I would like to stop there for a moment and pose a question to the reader:
- Is this a “rights” issue?
- Should the host community in this context have the “right” to leverage
from the visitor economy?
- What factors determine whether they should (or not) have this “right”?
I, for one, am torn. On one hand I cannot help but see this as an injustice, especially as owners and organisers often claim local people should stand to benefit most from the planning, staging and subsequent legacies that follow. Yet on the other, the organisation of such a complex event, mixed with the limited propensity for sport event tourists to consume in any meaningful way beyond these event zones, appears to be an impossibility when it comes to simultaneously securing both the rights of external and internal stakeholders. Indeed, this is not just an Olympic phenomenon but a Commonwealth Games and FIFA problem too. It is also a wider issue with any sport or cultural event that zones the event’s environment – whether that be an expo or a regional half running marathon. Simply put, this is a systematic and structural problem that pervades across the world and event owners and organisers must do more to encourage greater interactivity between hosts and guests if they are to have the intended immediate economic benefit back to the host community.
The question for event organisers is: How to balance external and internal interests during the live staging?
I, with my colleagues Andrew Smith, Ilaria Pappalepore and Yvonne Ivanescu suggest a dual strategy is required to help achieve said balance. This work is published in a new 2021 forthcoming paper entitled Tourists’ experiences of mega-event cities: Rio’s Olympic “double bubbles” (2021) in the journal Annals of Leisure Research.
“Local infusion” (e.g. bringing together internal stakeholders, e.g. local cultural producers, inside Olympic zones to feature alongside external stakeholders
- And –
“Visitor diffusion” (e.g. encouraging visitors to move out of Olympic zones and into urban neighbourhoods and “off the beaten track” by, for example, developing cultural initiatives, events and propositions that circulate visitors around the city – instead of containing them inside discrete zones).
What did we learn from Rio’s Olympic city?
So far, I have stated the problem; presented both behavioural and organisational factors that produce and exacerbate this problem, and; suggested some of the ways event owners and organisers could overcome the host community exclusion. Now, in addition to the local infusion and visitor diffusion suggestions,
I illustrate a plethora of ways the local businesses and entrepreneurial types proactively sought to leverage Rio’s Olympic visitor economy, and how Rio’s organisational environment differed in relation to other Olympic cities (e.g. London). I discuss the three key themes of the research below, including:
1) Setting the stage: Rio’s localised commercial canvas, 2) Tactics and serendipitous immediate leverage of transit zones, and 3) Animating Rio’s transit zones: Spaces of dwelling and local interaction.
Setting the stage: Rio’s localised commercial canvas – this first key finding illustrated how, despite the city being reconfigured as found in other Olympic cities, there were fewer official sponsors dominating these official zones and in and around venues. For the most part, sponsors were mainly housed inside the event venues (e.g. Copacabana’s volleyball arena). Therefore, with an absence of sponsors, local businesses and entrepreneurial types spotted an opportunity to peddle non-sponsor products (and services: Henna tattoo art stations to pop up massage parlours). This included counterfeit unofficial Rio 2016 merchandise right through to caipirinhas inside the Olympic Boulevard. Simply put, Rio’s Olympic zones, often prohibiting local leveraging, became spaces where the host community could make a quick buck. The ability for locals to turn Olympic zones (usually known for being highly organised, securitised and regulated event spaces) into vibrant and carnivalesque spaces offering opportunity for visitors to dwell in local areas and interact with the community is a central finding of this work. If you are interested to see what these environments looked like, I took viewers through a slideshow of these environments in my recorded talk. These points all pertain to the second key themes: Tactics and serendipitous immediate leverage of transit zones.
This neatly segues into my final theme: Animating Rio’s transit zones: Spaces of dwelling and local interaction. For this final part, I draw on some of the interview data I conducted after the Games with tourism industry experts and policy makers situated across Rio and Brazil to understand how they perceived
and explained why Rio’s data emerged so different to other Olympic cities.
Broadly speaking, interviewees raised two important sentiments:
1) The Olympics for the city and for local residents was not just a “selling” exercise but an opportunity to showcase an authentic side to the city.
2) Locals proactively responded this way because of a history of staging major events like the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup but primarily Rio Carnival.
Therefore, they knew how to throw a party and had the capacity and confidence to do so.
Building on my arguments presented above, I wish to leave a closing thought. It is important to note that most of the critique bestowed upon event owners like the IOC and organising committees (e.g. the Rio Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) is focused on what they should do – either at a policy or managerial level to reduce the likelihood of host community exclusion. I agree with this critique, owners and organisers must re-think the way they spatially and regulatorily organise the city – there is much work to be done here.
However, the situation is much more complex than this and it would be naive to simply rely on managers and policy makers to single-handedly resolve the challenges I describe throughout. My view is that it is not solely the responsibility of owners and organisers to create the ideal conditions for local businesses and entrepreneurial types to leverage the Olympic visitor economy. As the Rio 2016 case illustrates, locals themselves engaged in proactive and creative entrepreneurial leveraging tactics enabling them to productively leverage to gain some economic benefit. Therefore, much work is required with as well as on local environments and internal stakeholders to build capacity and confidence to encourage bottom-up grassroots local leveraging activity too. Indeed, it is the responsibility of stakeholders involved to achieve this, from the IOC, local organising committees to the local churros trader to consider how they can more evenly distribute the benefits of event-induced visitor economies. This is one way we may approach securing community rights for this specific issue.
N.B. This piece is based on the following published work: Duignan, M. B., Down, S., & O’Brien, D. (2020). Entrepreneurial leveraging in liminoidal Olympic transit zones. Annals of Tourism Research, 80, pp. 1-19. You can find the full IOA recording of this talk in September 2020 on the following link http://www.ioa-sessions.org/yp2020lecture-assoc-prof-mike-duignan
Useful links to author’s previous work to support this piece
Duignan, M. B. (2021). Utilising field theory to examine mega event-led development. Event Management, forthcoming.
Duignan, M. B. (2021). Leveraging Tokyo 2020 to re-image Japan and the Olympic City, post-Fukushima. Journal of Destination Marketing and Management, forthcoming.
Duignan, M. B. (2021). Tourists’ experiences of mega-event cities: Rio’s Olympic “double bubbles”. Annals of Leisure Research, forthcoming.
Duignan, M. B., Down, S., & O’Brien, D. (2020). Entrepreneurial leveraging in liminoidal Olympic transit zones. Annals of Tourism Research, 80, pp. 1-19.
Duignan, M. B., Pappalepore, I., and Everett, S. (2019) The “summer of discontent”: Exclusion and communal resistance at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Tourism
Duignan, M. B. (2019). London’s local Olympic legacy: Small business displacement, “clone town” effect and the production of “urban blandscapes”. Journal of Place
Management and Development, 12(2), pp. 142-163.
McGillivray, D., Duignan, M. B., & Mielke, E. (2019). Mega sport events and spatial management: Zoning space across Rio’s 2016 Olympic city. Annals of Leisure Research, 23(3), pp. 280-303.
Articles & Publications
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