It seems impossible to imagine - the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are gone. Quite remarkable. Especially considering how impossible the idea of a success Games was for so many, for so long.
The questioning started with the initial speculation of viability of the bid itself: "Will London get it?"..."Should London Get It??" Once host city status was secured, then it moved onto the more practical questioning: "Will London Be Ready?" From security to east London regeneration sensibility, and let's not forget the matter of legacy, the list of questions was as long as, if not longer, that the IOC's local project team's to-do list. With initial teething worked through in pre-Games major events (a royal wedding also acting as a mega-event dry run fit for a queen), and the poorly times and poorly articulated comments of a presidential candidate providing an 11th hour spark to the spirit of the Games, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were underway.
With each passing day, each successful event, and each astonishing gold by Team GB, the awe became more audible. "Oh my goodness, we've done it!" Soon, very soon, the awe turned to attitude. "Is this not the greatest Games ever?!"
Unique? Not at all. Ask anyone in South Africa pre-, during and post the 2010 FIFA World Cup. And other mega-events in cities around the globe that were under the international, and local, microscope of speculation, scrutiny and doubt. The questions of "Will it be worth it?" that burdened event execution efforts lifted as, and with, the spirits of host city residents. Pride replaced pessimism. Participation replaced passivity. Sport became secondary to citizen activation.
And then the closing ceremony came, and went. Returning to the scene of 2012 Olympics celebrations, walking the once-decorated streets and travelling the once-packed transport lines, feels like walking back into the room the morning after Christmas. Excitedly removed gift wrap litters the floor. The good stuff is all gone - all that is left is the packaging.
And the memories.
And the looming question of "Now what do we do?"
This is one of the greatest misunderstandings, and miscalculations, of mega-events. The 2012 Olympics were always about so much more than sport for London and the UK. The 2012 FWC was always about so much more than football for South Africa. The end goal is always about so much more than the competition. The business case behind taking on a mega-event is always about an R.O.I. stretches far beyond the final day of the event itself. The bottom line: the event is actually the start of its impact.
While many across London and the UK complain of the Olympics hangover, those who took their vitamin C before the Games, VisitBritain for example, now stand strong and fit, ready to work to achieve the real metrics that matter. The 2012 Olympics are about:
- step-change tourism growth in 2013, 2014, and 2015;
- refreshed destination brand equity;
- increased destination competitiveness;
- maximum leverage of 2012 destination promotion and profile;
- investment into tourism sector alignment, inclusivity, dispersion of benefits and upliftment of offerings;
Will there be immediate declines in post-Games hotel occupancy, summer season retail revenues, and earnings from attractions? Yes, that is a given. As was the case in other major events host cities and nations, be they hosts of the Olympics, Expo, the World Cup or other mega-events.
There are thousands of questions that can be asked, that can challenge the logic of mega-event execution.
But there is one that is the real litmus test: "What if we hadn't?"
What if, in the case of the 2012 Olympics, London had not bid as host city? What would the airports look like? What would the city centre look like? What would east London look like? What would the spirit of the people, the faces of Brits, look like?
What if they hadn't??
The 2012 Olympic Games was a massive stimulus package for London and the UK. It provided the host nation with reason to come together to work, to focus, to be productive, to be proud, and to be positive about the future. It is now up to the people of London and the UK - its industries, its communities, its investors, its leaders and its believers - to determine the strength of the R.O.I. of the Games. The spirit of the wider team GB - the people of London and the UK - was what caused the Olympic spirit to burn so brightly in 2012.
Looking back two years to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the same is true.
Mega-events ignite the bright lights and big ambitions of a destination. Mega-events are a fuel - they spark a shared sense of purpose, pride and enduring promise. The massive investment made into mega-events must reap a return. The question, the opportunity, lies in the WHEN.
When will the benefits be realised? Immediately? 6 months on? 1 year on? 5 years on?
In actual fact, there should never be an end-point.
In actual fact, there should never be an end-point.
For London, and the UK, now that the 2012 Games have concluded, it is the people of the host nation who are the torch's enduring flame. Unity, productivity, pride, purpose, inspiration for a new generation - it is all in place.
There is absolutely no reason that the flame should ever be extinguished.