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September 21, 2010

THE LEGACY UNFOLDS:How Vancouver and Canada is already benefiting from the Winter Olympics

In an exclusive interview with MEETINGS:review at this year’s Summer Eventia in Glasgow, Claire Smith, vice president sales and marketing at the Vancouver Convention Centre, tells Ian Whiteling how the city is coping in the aftermath of the Winter Olympics earlier this year, and describes the legacies that are already apparent.

“We’re the busiest we’ve ever been.”

Now that’s not something you hear many people say in the meetings and events industry at the moment. But those are the comments of Vancouver Convention Centre’s president of sales and marketing Claire Smith when asked how she and her colleagues are coping with life after the Winter Olympic Games. Clearly the major event that took place earlier this year in the city has provided a welcome boost to business.

“For us the next 18 months will be non-stop,” she continues. “Our teams are all run off their feet, but it’s a good problem to have. Of course, it was part of the plan to capitalise on the awareness and attendance-building factors after the Olympics.” And it certainly seems to be working.

Smith has also noticed a change in attitude in the city and local community towards events since the Games.

“We’re starting to see Vancouver get excited about hosting events in places where they would never have allowed us to before, which is great,” she explains.

“For example, for the recent MPI conference, we closed down one of the main roads so we could hold a street party. Previously we have never had the support from the city to hold such events. A new attitude and respect for the importance of events has been created by the Games.”

Busy times: The Vancouver Convention Centre is reaping the rewards

Also boosting Vancouver’s meetings and events community are the infrastructural improvements that took place in preparation for the Winter Olympics. The new rapid transit system to the airport, and improved highways have made Vancouver more accessible. Meanwhile, the convention centre itself has also benefited.

“While our venue wasn’t built for the Olympics, it happened on time and with a lot of technological infrastructure that probably would never have happened if it wasn’t for the Games,” says Smith.

She’s also keen to point out that skill levels have risen, while organisers have more confidence in the ability of the local and national meetings and events communities.

“On the human capital side, many people gained a lot of great experience during the Games,” she says. “Whether they worked directly inside the Olympic world or touched it in some other way, that experience is only making us better. We had exceptional expertise in the city, but I think now it has been proved. This makes it easier to convince people that they don’t need to bring everything in because we have a lot of expertise already here.”

Beyond the benefits to the meetings and events industry, Smith reveals that an important social legacy that is already apparent just six months after the Games, and is improving Vancouver as a place to live, work and visit. 

“One obvious major improvement is the lack of homeless people on the streets,” she says. “Homelessness has always been one of the city’s big challenges. If you’re going to be homeless anywhere in Canada and you’re mobile, you will end up in Vancouver due to the mild climate. We needed long-term strategies to create housing opportunities, so a lot of the Olympic developments included an element that would create housing for homeless people.”

Smith also says the Games have united Canada in a similar way that the FIFA World Cup brought Africa closer together as a continent, as reported by MEETINGS:review in June.

“We’re a large diverse country,” she explains. “This has meant that often in the west of Canada we have felt disenfranchised from the centre of government in Ottawa. Strategically, the Games linked every major community across the country through the torch relay. This really connected everyone together and has made us feel like we are all part of the same country. So the Olympics has created a sense of community and patriotism, which is something that we have never seen before, and this will live on.”

The experience of Vancouver proves the power of events like the Winter Olympics to benefit a destination not just economically, but also socially. This has got to be good news for all the cities and countries working hard to attract and plan major sporting events, and their meetings and events communities, without which such spectacles couldn’t possibly take place.

Next month, Claire Smith reveals her five tips for getting the most out of a major sporting event.

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