Perhaps no other event in contemporary society equals the impact of the Olympic Games on a region's economy, sense of self, and perceived role in the world community. The Olympic spotlight burns intensely on the city playing host to athletes, officials, and spectators from all continents and nearly 200 countries, gathered before 3 billion television viewers around the world.
Positive and negative aspects about a region are showcased and magnified. In 1984, Los Angeles gained great stature in the global community through its successful hosting of an Olympics where good will and financial success contrasted sharply with the strife and economic burdens of previous Olympics. Having been chosen as the host of the Centennial 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta needs to balance the euphoria of selection with the reality of long-term pragmatism.
The Olympics will not automatically bestow favorable publicity and economic prosperity on the chosen city. But the Games do offer places the opportunity to be recognized in the global community and become known as attractive places to live and work.
Community support in Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics was initially less than enthusiastic, but it grew rapidly just before the Games, when it was evident that the Olympics would be a financial, logistical, and artistic success. The Atlanta Games are starting with considerable local enthusiasm and pride, but as the excitement of the extraordinary accomplishment of being awarded the 1996 Games recedes, attention to maintaining enthusiasm and community support is vital. Programs must involve broad-based participation in the planning and staging of the Games.
The economic impacts of the Los Angeles Olympics were reported to include gross expenditures of approximately $1.4 billion, and the Games generated approximately 75,000 temporary jobs. Initial estimates of economic impacts of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics are $3.5 billion of primary and secondary expenditures in the Georgia economy and the creation of some 83,000 jobs.
The benefits of hosting the Games may not always be immediately apparent. The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visibility. The visibility that Barcelona gained by hosting the 1992 Summer Games has been an important consideration in decisions involving business expansion, both within Spain and by international companies seeking to locate in Spain. Similarly, Calgary in Alberta, Canada, was not particularly well known prior to hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics but gained extraordinary and lasting visibility that has led to its emergence as a major tourist attraction, especially for the Asian market.
The reality for Atlanta is that an event such as the Olympics raises consciousness, creates more-serious consideration, but in itself does not cause a corporate location decision that ultimately must be based on business fundamentals.
And the Olympics by themselves will not transform any region's economic base or fundamentals. However, a major event such as the Olympics can instill new confidence in a region, motivating investors who previously had not considered that region as a target priority to commit capital. This phenomenon clearly is evident in Atlanta, as investors who previously would have been disinclined to consider Atlanta hotel investments are now showing new confidence in the region and actively seeking hotel investment opportunities.
The Olympics can raise global awareness of fundamental place appeal and also consciousness of place among those who reside there. But awareness and consciousness do not mask underlying fundamentals of the imperative of sustained long-term economic viability and social harmony, as has been vividly demonstrated by the racial tension and economic hardship that has characterized Los Angeles in recent years. An even more dramatic example of the dominance of place fundamentals over Olympic glamour is the inability of the torch of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo to light the way to internal harmony rather than the civic conflict and disorder that prevail there a decade later. …