The 2018 Winter Olympic Games officially kick off today, with the Opening Ceremony set to take place at 8pm local time at the 35,000-seat PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. Over the next two weeks, 102 events will take place across 15 sports, with around 3,000 athletes expected to take part.
Don Roelofs, owner of KR Travel DMC has more reason than most to be excited, having worked on preparations for the Olympics over the last four years. There are around 30 people at his company dedicated to the Games, working across three offices. They’ve had a range of responsibilities, including sourcing venues, training facilities and accommodation for various sporting teams and the media. The agency secured the chance to work on the Games through word of mouth, when an existing client referred their services.
“Working on an event like the Olympics entails long preparation — so in one sense as an agency we are not facing a lot of competition, as many came too late to the Games,” he says. “You need a thorough understanding of the area and good local contacts, particularly as PyeongChang is quite an isolated ski resort.”
Roelofs says expectations — from both suppliers and visitors, have been a challenge to manage, particularly with regards to the price of accommodation. Many of his clients have opted to stay outside of the ‘recognised’ Olympic accommodation, as he says the prices attached to them have been high.
“Even now, at this late stage, expectations over pricing are too high — the government could have made pricing clearer,” he says.
Stress levels have also been running high, as KR Travel had to complete a number of projects within a very tight time frame, but for Roelofs, ‘achieving the impossible’ has its own rewards.
“One of the skiing teams requested a venue very close to the slopes but there is nothing there but small houses; so we looked at these and got the go-ahead to turn them into a training area with makeshift bedding,” he says. “Working on PyeongChang 2018 is a blank canvas - we are creating something out of nothing. You have to be very creative, constantly thinking outside the box.”
'Peace in motion'
For Younji Julia Kim, coordinator of the PR public engagement team for the PyeongChang Organizing Committee, much of her role thus far has been aimed at offering interested parties - both national and international — information on various aspects of the Games, including venues, emblems and mascots.
She believes the Winter Olympics will help to ignite international interest in the destination as well as put the relationship between North and South Korea under the spotlight — in fact, the theme for tonight’s Opening Ceremony is ‘Peace in Motion’ as teams from North and South Korea will march together behind a "unification flag" carried by an athlete from each country.
“Sport has the power to bind - the Games will be the foundation for economic and cultural development of the host region and nation, as well as presenting opportunities to promote core technologies from Korea, such as ICT,” Kim says.
Improvements in transport infrastructure are expected to facilitate visits to the Games and beyond, according to Kim. Trains on the KTX high-speed railway, for example, will connect Incheon international airport and Gangneung on a frequent basis, with up to 51 trains running daily.
And while Roelofs maintains that more could have been done to promote the Games on a global platform, he believes the legacy from the Games will provide an economic boost to the destination for some time to come.
This will be the second Olympics held in South Korea; Seoul was the host city for the Summer Olympics in 1988. The closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics will take place on February 25.