It is clear Britain got a ‘bounce’ from the Olympics, but much more is needed to secure long-term economic legacy

January 28, 2013

–Andrew Hammond is an Associate Partner at ReputationInc.  He was formerly a UK Government Special Adviser, and a Senior Consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Six months since the London 2012 games began, a flurry of research has indicated that the UK’s international image has received a boost from hosting the Olympics and Paralympics.  Most recently, the latest Anholt GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, released on January 17, showed that the United Kingdom edged up from fifth to fourth place since July 2012 in the survey’s overall country reputation rankings; only the United States, Germany and France currently have a more favourable nation brand.

Key research findings from this study, which follows similar IPSOS Mori research in December, include that international perceptions of the United Kingdom as a ‘welcoming’ nation have significantly improved.  This is reflected, for instance, in the fact that 63% of international respondents to the Anholt GfK survey said that London 2012 had increased their own interest in visiting the United Kingdom.

This positive news follows an ICM opinion poll released in December which revealed that the UK public remains very strongly supportive of hosting the games last year.  Over three quarters of UK respondents agreed that London 2012 was “well worth the [multi-billion pounds] cost”, and a similar percentage believed the games “did a valuable job in cheering up a country in hard times”.

It is remarkable that the post-London 2012 feel-good mood has lasted so long.  Yet, in 2013, it could easily begin to fragment unless public demands for a meaningful, long-term legacy from the Olympics and Paralympics are secured.

Much attention has been given to the sporting and volunteering dimensions of the legacy, yet the economic and reputational ones are key too.  The prizes, according to the government, include an additional £13 billion for UK plc over four years from enhanced inward investment, in-bound tourism, and increased exports.

As encouraging as the recent spate of research potentially is, it should not be forgotten that a majority of nations have failed to capitalise in the long term, economically and reputationally, upon hosting the games. So what is now needed to be done?

The National Audit Office (NAO) identified “firm leadership and oversight” as being key to securing long-term legacy.  At present, it is the Cabinet Office providing this leadership, with oversight of multiple public sector organisations tasked with legacy responsibilities. However, the scale and complexity of the challenge means that this structure needs rethinking. What is needed, as I have previously argued is what might be called an ‘Economics Team GB’.

Like the London 2012 project itself, this legacy strategy should ideally have as much cross-party political support as possible, and be at least five to ten years in length.  It would sustain itself well beyond the immediate bounce that London 2012 has given, and look at how the success of the Olympics and Paralympics might be replicated (albeit on a smaller scale) with key future events in the United Kingdom such as the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup in 2014, the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and the World Athletics Championships in 2017.

One example of what is needed here is the partnership between British Airways and VisitBritain to boost in-bound tourism from a number of key markets, including China and India.  This ‘Big British Invite’ campaign features special fares on British Airways flights from these markets, alongside a marketing push from VisitBritain.

If and when an Economics Team GB gets up and running, funding, bureaucracy, and competing agendas will be amongst numerous potential obstacles.  However, as with with the daunting Olympics and Paralympics mega-project itself, none of these issues are insuperable.

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