Let the Games Con­tinue

If some­thing is worth do­ing, it’s worth do­ing well. Or at least on time

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT - — Dan Booth Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor

The 2014 Win­ter Olympics are now in the record books. The qua­dren­nial sport­ing ex­trav­a­ganza, along with its close cousin, the Par­a­lympics, was held in Rus­sia’s pop­u­lar Black Sea re­sort town of Sochi, and will be for­ever re­mem­bered as “The Sochi Games.” Sochi is an in­ter­est­ing choice for the Win­ter Games, since it’s among the few Rus­sian lo­cales with a sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate. North Amer­i­cans were happy to es­cape the Po­lar Vor­tex-in­duced blizzard con­di­tions that gripped much of the con­ti­nent, re­treat­ing in­doors to watch hours of curl­ing and half­pipe and gi­ant slalom on tele­vi­sion. So we were puz­zled at re­ports from Sochi, where the big­gest prob­lem with the snow seemed to be how to keep it from melt­ing.

Other predica­ments sur­faced in the days leading up to the Games. Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has in­vested heav­ily in the Olympics, pledg­ing to re­make Sochi into “a world-class re­sort ”for a“new Rus­sia.” In the end, news re­ports peg the to­tal cost to the Rus­sian tax­pay­ers at $51 bil­lion – more than the cost of all the pre­ced­ing Win­ter Olympics com­bined.

Much of that cost was due to an in­fra­struc­ture that was not merely in­ad­e­quate, but com­pletely nonex­is­tent be­fore the Games. Al­most from the day Rus­sia won the bid in 2007, they’ve been fu­ri­ously build­ing ev­ery­thing from the Ice­berg Skat­ing Palace to the Sochi Light Metro. Oh, and ho­tels – lots and lots of ho­tels.

Sochi needed to build 22,000 ho­tel rooms. And while the sport­ing venues were nearly ready on time, by Septem­ber hun­dreds of ho­tel rooms re­mained un­fin­ished. The Rus­sians poured 100,000 work­ers into the city who la­bored around the clock. Still de­spite the gar­gan­tuan ef­fort, sto­ries abounded – many spread by so­cial me­dia – of faulty plumb­ing, filthy rooms and frag­ile doors.

All that turned out not to mat­ter, though; the Games them­selves went off rea­son­ably well, from what we could tell watch­ing on TV. And plenty of us were watch­ing, an aver­age of some 21.4 mil­lion in the US alone, ac­cord­ing to the show­biz news­pa­per Va­ri­ety. That doesn’t count the mil­lions more who tuned into the other 463 chan­nels else­where in the world – nearly twice as many broad­cast out­lets as signed up for the 2010 Van­cou­ver Games. An even more fas­ci­nat­ing change in the four short years be­tween Van­cou­ver and Sochi, over 150 web sites and 75 apps were avail­able to show live events from Rus­sia. Ac­cord­ing to Va­ri­ety, dur­ing the Games, roughly 45 mil­lion people chat­ted about the Win­ter Olympics on Face­book — for a to­tal of about 120 mil­lion com­bined posts, com­ments and “likes.”

The growth – and im­pact – of the so­cial me­dia revo­lu­tion is chang­ing the way the world works for many of us, es­pe­cially in the busi­ness of travel. This month’s cover story ( The So­cial Edge, page 30) de­tails how air­lines, ho­tels and other travel providers are fig­ur­ing out new so­cial me­dia op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­gage us on our jour­neys.

The next Olympics are the 2016 Sum­mer Games, this time in Rio de Janeiro. So nat­u­rally, we’ve got some­thing to say about Olympic ho­tels there as well ( Invit­ing Rio, page 20).

Rio has some ad­van­tages over Sochi; for one thing, there’s sub­stan­tial in­fra­struc­ture al­ready in place, in­clud­ing a num­ber of ho­tels ei­ther open or un­der con­struc­tion. In ad­di­tion, Brazil hosts the FIFA World Cup in a cou­ple of months, with Rio cen­ter stage, cre­at­ing even more ur­gency to fin­ish these projects. Barcelona, Sara­jevo, Seoul, Salt Lake – the Olympics, sum­mer or win­ter, are sto­ries that mark a city for­ever. Not just with phys­i­cal en­hance­ments, but in the very heart of the place. Long af­ter the dif­fi­cul­ties of stag­ing the events are for­got­ten, the spirit of the Games lives on. Sochi, cer­tainly, is changed. And I’ve no doubt that the same will be true for Rio as well.

As long as they get the plumb­ing right.


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