Features / Vancouver / Legacies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

Vancouver’s recession-rocked Olympics left a mixed economic legacy

During his Premiership, Gordon Campbell was the biggest salesman for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

He claimed it would add $10 billion to the province’s economy and he boldly challenged the tourism industry to use the Games to double its revenue. Governments also tried to use the Games to spark domestic and international trade and investment, but the 2008 global economic crisis got in the way.

During the boom-and-bust, bid-to-hosting cycle between 2000 and 2010, Campbell’s B.C. Progress Board found B.C.’s economy, personal income and jobs rankings fell behind other provinces and social conditions remained static at ninth overall.

 B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is held up to keep his feet from getting wet by a member of the Canadian men's eights as they pose for group photo during the Olympic Torch relay in Saanich on October 30, 2009. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is held up to keep his feet from getting wet by a member of the Canadian men's eights as they pose for group photo during the Olympic Torch relay in Saanich on October 30, 2009. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Through 2012, tourism was a $13.5 billion industry, unlikely to reach Campbell’s $18 billion wish by 2015.

“Even though it received a boost from the 2010 Olympic Games, the province’s tourism sector has not kept pace with the rest of economy over the longer run, as growth in 2011 and 2012 has been well below the average in other industries,” according to a Destination B.C. report.

Since 2007, tourism expanded 4.5%, which is below the 6.1% for the overall economy and the 7.8% for the service sector.

Buoyed by a record Olympic February, Vancouver registered 8.415 million hotel stays in 2010, far below the 2007 record of 8.91 million. For 2012, the most recent year available, Vancouver counted 8.34 million room nights.

Greater Vancouver homebuilding and buying boomed. The population has swelled by 100,000 since January 2010. The Economist Intelligence Unit named Vancouver the world’s third most-livable city, but North America’s most-expensive.

Metro Vancouver housing starts of 8,203 in 2000 reached 20,736 in 2007. After plummeting to 8,339 in 2009, starts recovered to 19,027 in 2012.

The Games had an estimated 1.8 billion viewers worldwide, including many deep-pocketed real estate investors. Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver statistics show the detached property benchmark was $425,540 when the International Olympic Committee chose Vancouver in July 2003 and rose to $800,796 in February 2010. It reached $927,000 in December 2013.

Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey combined with Western Economic Diversification Canada for the $1.54 million Metro Vancouver Commerce hospitality program at Games-time. They wined, dined and plied 100 businesspeople with Games tickets, hoping to draw investment.

Two months after the Games, MVC boasted eight deals worth $60 million. Four small companies agreed to open Vancouver offices, none of which remains or appears active. A $25 million hydrogen plant project between North Vancouver’s H-Tec and Quebec’s Air Liquide hasn’t happened. Abbotsford’s Cascade Aerospace denied a $27 million deal with Lockheed Martin was related to MVC.

MVC’s February 2011 update claimed $168.8 million of investments -- of which $146.4 million were one-offs. MVC took credit for luring Mission:Impossible 4 to shoot in Vancouver and Digital Domain’s work on Tron and Thor. Digital Domain spokeswoman Julie Miller said the studio could’t attribute any of its growth to MVC.

 Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson holds up a figurine of Buzz Lightyear during the opening of Pixar Canada's Vancouver office in April 2010.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson holds up a figurine of Buzz Lightyear during the opening of Pixar Canada's Vancouver office in April 2010.

Pixar, the Disney digital animation studio, drew Campbell and Mayor Gregor Robertson to the post-Olympic opening of its Gastown office in April 2010. It closed in October 2013.

So what became of Campbell’s $10 billion Olympic boost?

An October 2011 PwC report commissioned by Ottawa and Victoria estimated the Games increased B.C.‘s Gross Domestic Product by $2.3 billion from 2003 to 2010. Hosting the Olympics was among many reasons why B.C.’s debt grew $24 billion over the last decade.

Was the Games’ $6 billion-plus price tag money well-spent? In early 2011, B.C.’s then-Auditor General John Doyle chose not to conduct a post-Games audit.

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