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