Brisbane wins the 2032 Olympics: What’s in it for SMEs?

Source: City of Brisbane on Twitter.

Brisbane has officially been named as the host city for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and with the announcement comes opportunity for SMEs and startups in all kinds of sectors — but only if we get it right.

In a statement, Brisbane City Council said it remains “committed to sustainable long-term outcomes, which will benefit Brisbane”.

The city will be home to 18 of the 32 competition venues, as well as non-competition venues such as the International Broadcast Centre, the Main Press Centre and the Olympic and Paralympic Games Athletes’ Village.

Projects to get the city ready in the meantime include the Brisbane Metro and Green Bridges projects, as well as a revitalising of Victoria Park.

The additional events will be held in Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Robert Brooks, deputy dean for education and professor of econometrics and business statistics at Monash University, points to the “poster child” city of an economically successful Olympic Games: Barcelona.

The city of Barcelona used the opportunity to embark on a whole city renewal program and infrastructure development. Then, it thought ahead as to how these developments would be used, post-Games, as “creative economy-type areas”.

“A big part of the economic benefit around the Olympics is in the lead-up, and it’s associated with construction and infrastructure,” he explains.

If a city gets that infrastructure work right, there’s a longer-term benefit flow that can last long after the Games themselves.

What’s in it for SMEs?

How much this infrastructure work will benefit the small business community remains to be seen.

The COVID-19 pandemic means supply chains are more front-of-mind than they ever have been, and there’s more importance placed on the local capacity for procurement, Brooks notes.

The question when it comes to the economic benefits for Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Queensland, and even Australia, will be around whether it is local suppliers called in to do the work or not.

The more local suppliers involved, the more the projects will benefit smaller players.

“The past 18 months has taught us that local capacity to do these things is a lot more important,” Brooks says.

Then there’s a second, more obvious, burst of economic benefit that comes with hosting big events like the Olympics. The one that comes from all the visitors descending on a city — that is, when there’s no global pandemic getting in the way.

The benefits here tend to be fairly concentrated in the hospitality, accommodation and tourism sectors.

And, while a lot of cash will go to the internationally-owned chain hotels, for example, there will always be people looking for a more boutique experience, too. Some will also be looking to enjoy other tourist spots while they’re there.

These economic benefits tend to diffuse fairly evenly, Brooks notes.

Tech opportunities abound

This is the Olympic Games in 2032 we’re talking about. So, there are also tech opportunities to be grabbed.

The Games will be spread across three main sites that are a fair distance apart. That’s good for spreading the economic benefits, and it will be good for managing congestion, if indeed the infrastructure is right.

But when you’ve got a lot of people moving around on such a scale — particularly in what will be (touch wood) a post-COVID world, “You’ve got to think of how you do mobility and information services for people who are not from the region,” Brooks muses.

We’ve all had a taste of what QR code technology can do, for example.

Get this right and the economic benefits for everyone will be boosted. Get it wrong and, well, the opposite will happen.

“What are the technology-enabled services you create for people to maximise that experience?”

Avoiding a “fizzer”

As always, with any small business opportunity, there are pitfalls to look out for.

For hospitality-type businesses, there is always a trade off that comes with an influx of temporary customers.

If you’re a hole-in-the-wall cafe, you don’t want to alienate your loyal, local customers, Brooks notes.

They’re the customers you’re relying on for the 500 weeks ahead of the Olympics. They’re the ones that will keep you going in 500 weeks that follow, too.

Equally, Gold Coast lawyer Bruce Simmonds, has pointed out that business owners will not be quick to forget the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which did not lead to the boom in business they had anticipated.

Local businesses such as cafes, restaurants and nightclubs were repeatedly warned to expect an influx of visitors, he said in a statement. But those warnings backfired, and instead led to locals fleeing the area, while the crowds never materialised.

With the Gold Coast set to be a key part in the 2032 Olympics, he’s urging organisers to learn from that mistake.

“Locals were told to stay off the streets and many left town to avoid the crush,” Simmonds said.

“In the end we had the bizarre sight of city officials pleading for locals to get out and support businesses.”

Amid the buzz around the Olympics announcement, Simmonds is calling for provisions to be put in place for businesses that have prepared for crowds with extra staffing and produce, in the event that the crowds don’t come.

Business owners on the Gold Coast know better than most how quickly large events can turn into a “giant fizzer”, he said.

And while we may be thinking more than ten years ahead, there is still, of course, the question of COVID-19.

“Nobody has any idea what shape the Games might be in 2032 or, like this year’s Tokyo Games, if spectators can even attend them.”

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