Assessing the Socio-Cultural Impact of Special Events: Frameworks, Methods, and Challenges

Article excerpt

Introduction

Events such as concerts, sporting events, festivals, conventions, or trade shows are widely recognized as playing important role in development of destinations. It is commonly agreed that they have a significant potential to positively contribute to communities that host them. As a result, events have become one of the growing in popularity methods of attracting visitors to an area. In recent years, special events have became one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry. At the same time, however, they often require significant investment and public support in order to develop the necessary infrastructure, such as stadiums, convention centers and other visitor-oriented facilities. To justify the public investment in such facilities, local benefits of events are frequently discussed and promoted (Crompton 2004). Evaluation of impacts of the events has became important for supporting the decisions regarding the hosting of events as well as to understand the contributions of the event to the destination.

Numerous authors stress the importance of acknowledging and evaluating impacts of events on host communities for monitoring, control and evaluation purposes (Getz 1997; Dwyer et al. 2000; Jones 2001; Small et al. 2005). However, a review of recent literature indicates significant differences among papers with regard to the aspects of event impacts being assessed and the methods used. Traditionally, support for organizing and hosting special events has been predominantly justified by government and tourism agencies in terms of the narrow perspective of their economic contribution to the host economy (Hede et al. 2003). This resulted in an extensive research focused predominantly on identifying and evaluating economic benefits of events. Despite the widespread use of economic impact assessments for events, there appears to be a degree of criticism about the methods and results of these evaluations (Getz 1991; Crompton 1995; Hodur and Leistritz 2006).

Since the 1980's, an increasing number of researchers have called for a broader, holistic approach to evaluate the impact of special events (Ritchie 1984; Bramwell 1997; Dwyer et al. 2000; Carlsen et al. 2001; Getz 2000; Hede et al. 2003; Sherwood, phd thesis). They argued that economic measurement is not sufficient to fully evaluate the impacts of an event, since they encompass not only economic, but also environmental and social aspects (Dwyer et al. 2000; Bowdin et al. 2001). Among others, Bramwell (1997, 18) expressed this opinion stating that 'events should be assessed from the outset in relation to the concept of sustainable development, with key indicators of sustainability being identified and then monitored over a long period'. Some authors suggest to adapt the existing research on sustainability to the events' context in order to develop a holistic framework that would allow to identify and evaluate event's impacts across all three dimensions of economic, social and environmental impact of human activity (Fredline et al., 2004; Hede et al., 2008). Among others, Hede (2008) applied the Triple Bottom Line approach to event evaluation in order to address all impacts of an event that potentially are relevant to any of the involved stakeholders. The TBL, borrowed from accounting and finance, amalgamates the social, economic, and environmental aspects of activities into one framework.

The sustainable development movement and related to it growing recognition of the importance of socio-cultural impacts of events led to increased research attention focused on them. Different socio-cultural impacts of events have been identified, including positive impacts such as increased quality of life, cultural exchange, or community pride, as well as negative ones, including crowding, noise pollution, traffic issues, crime and vandalism. Over the last 10 years several frameworks and methods to measure these socio-cultural impacts of events have been proposed. …