Learning from the Olympics of Vancouver

Philip Salter
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LEARNING from the past is the path to progress and so Vancouver’s experience of hosting the Winter Olympics in 2010 has a lot to teach us. Despite the inevitable challenges, it was warmly and roundly considered a great success, with most businesses ready and willing to adapt and benefit from the unique opportunities afforded by being caught up in this colossal event.

There can be no doubt that the Olympic Games are an interruption to the status quo for most firms. Michael Davis of Reputations, a Vancouver-based public relations firm, found “the two biggest challenges for businesses were transportation and workforce management.” He explains that for businesses close to the key venues there were major disruptions in the delivery of goods, taxis, cars and transit for employees. He warns: “Security requirements can shut you down.” Similarly, Paul Fletcher, managing partner of Deloitte in Vancouver, points out “supply chain disruptions were also a reality during the Games.” He explains: “Leading up to, and during the Games, businesses had to reassess their supply chain in order to get their products to market or receive goods, as transportation to and from the city, as well as within it, operated under different scenarios. This situation was compounded by the fact that suppliers were facing the same challenges.”

Employers need to be aware that many of their staff will want to watch the Olympics – this was certainly the case in Vancouver. Davis notes some companies simply shut down, some gave employees vacation, while a number of schools moved the break to coincide with the Games – further complicating some peoples’ lives. Fletcher says: “For many businesses, the Games meant reassessing some long-lived policies on ways of doing business and serving customers.” He says “businesses found that a number of their employees planned on taking a holiday during the Games resulting in a lack of resources.” According to Fletcher some workers found it difficult and time-consuming travelling to the workplace, making alternative work arrangements, such as working from home, viable solutions to maintain productivity for many companies.

Despite the tests, there are huge opportunities for businesses in the Olympic cities to prosper. Fletcher says the 2010 Games were an opportunity for businesses to transform themselves, as they were forced to reassess their basic processes and look at them more critically. He says “the Games provided long-term benefits for local businesses and the economy by establishing Vancouver on the world stage, helping to attract new jobs and investment to the area.” Davis notes “the most important lasting benefit for most participating businesses was the networking connections brought on by the Games.” He notes his consulting company was able to work with a number of international companies that they would never have had the opportunity to work with without the Games. He says: “This was a common theme: local businesses getting the opportunity to work on the international stage.” Also, after the Games, Fletcher says “improvements in public transportation, roads, bridges and airports benefited businesses as they and their workforce are major users of this infrastructure.” So a little temporary strain can lead to longer-term gains.

Hosting an Olympic Games requires an effort of Herculean proportions for all involved – not only the athletes. The coordination required is supremely complex. But this is no reason to approach the games with pessimism – despite the challenges, the coming disruption will also present opportunities for London’s businesses to look inward at their internal processes and outward at how they can benefit from the attention of the rest of the world. As Davis advises: “Get involved early, get as much information as you can and enjoy the ride.”

Olympic Opportunities in Canada
73% saw the Olympics as an opportunity to gain business

86% in the media and leisure sectors saw an advantage

80% in the retail sector saw an advantage

73% said their firms were continuing to enjoy higher sales

60% reported lasting benefits from the Olympics

Source: BT