Lessons to be learnt from Sailing Event crowd hype

August 5, 2012 - Weymouth, England
In the months and weeks before the 2012 London Olympic regatta in Weymouth, which started in late July at the peak of the local tourist season, the local authorities had erected signs asking people to plan their travel plans carefully on the Devon coast because of expected delays due to heavy traffic congestion because of the upcoming Olympic event in Weymouth-Portland.

The word spread quickly and the result was that the usual large numbers of high season visitors to this picturesque Jurassic coastal area stayed away in droves.

The Weymouth taxi drivers were quick to report this during the Olympic regatta and now local Council figures have confirmed there were 75,000 fewer visitors, compared with the same period in 2011.

The 15,000-strong rock wall spectator area in the seaside town was a raging success, but the projected 60,000-plus visitors a day proved to be just hype.

Ian Doyle from the Weymouth and Portland Borough Council told the BBC in a recent interview - 'It was a different market and it didn't suit everybody.

'People whose offer was suited to the type of people who visited did very, very well. Businesses that hadn't sold a bottle of champagne in 10 years, sold out during the Olympics.

'But clearly there were some businesses that struggled for various different reasons.'

The much promoted Bayside Festival on the pier featuring music, events and stalls, quite a long way from the Olympic venue closed after a week, with the event organisers suffering huge losses then going into liquidation when on site crowd number rarely reached more than 1,000 people visiting at one time.

Pre-event accommodation prices were up between 50-100% on normal years and as a result many local holiday makers went elsewhere.

The two weekends of medal races did boost visitor numbers with an estimated 100,000 turning out to watch Ben Ainslie win his fourth Olympic gold.

The most spectacular success was The Cove Hotel in Portland, the designated Australian Olympic Team watering hole. It had hundreds of guests every night and on the final weekend, it was taking up to 30 minutes queuing to buy a drink as the ‘Down Under sailors’ and their myriad friends and supporters celebrated a wonderful regatta.

The Australian Sailing Team at the Cove House Inn
Craig Heydon

On a more mundane level, those Dorset accommodation houses that did not set out to gouge had a normal summer season.

Chris Reay from the Channel Guest House on Weymouth’s Esplanade benefited from the Games, with a full guesthouse for the duration of the Olympic Games and strong numbers before and after.

'We pitched our prices at a similar level to any other summer,' he said.

The Nothe Fort - The Channel Guest House, Weymouth
'I think the days of special events where prices could be raised are gone. People are much more savvy, they're much more likely to shop around.'

The one light on the horizon is that businesses hope they will see more international tourists next season after the beach resort's strong television coverage.

Interesting this Weymouth experience is similar to that of Fremantle WA, where the very large numbers predicted did not eventuate in spite of the event being a raging success.

Looking forward to Santander Spain for the ISAF Worlds 2014 and the Olympic Sailing regatta - Brazil 2016, let’s hope that everyone takes note of these experiences and the crowd number hype is not repeated.