The 2018 Winter Olympics have closed in a flurry of giant snow globes, skating pandas and extravagent fireworks. Until the Winter Paralympics begins on March 8, South Korea can settle back down for a couple of weeks out of the spotlight.
This marks the second time the Games have been held in the country, following the Summer Games in Seoul in 1988, and the majority of the action this year has taken place in the northeastern city of PyeongChang, with some events in coastal Gangneung. Over the course of the Games, 102 events have taken place across 15 sports, with around 3,000 athletes taking part.
Don Roelofs, owner of MICE firm KR Travel DMC, has more reason than most to be relieved the Games are over, having worked on preparations for the Olympics for the last four years. There are now around 30 people at his company dedicated to the Games, spread across three offices. They have a range of responsibilities, including sourcing venues, training facilities and accommodation for various sports 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,” says Roelofs. “You need a thorough understanding of the area and good local contacts, particularly as PyeongChang is an isolated ski resort.”
Expectations, of both suppliers and visitors, have been a challenge to manage, admits Roelofs, particularly with regards to the price of lodgings. Many of his clients opted to stay outside the recognised Olympic accommodation given the high prices. “The government could have made pricing clearer,” he says.
Stress levels have also run understandably high, as KR Travel had to race to complete a number of projects within a very tight time frame, but for Roelofs, ‘achieving the impossible’ has had its own rewards.
“One of the skiing teams requested a venue very close to the slopes but there is nothing there but small houses. 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.”
While Roelofs maintains that more could have been done to promote the Games to the world, he believes the legacy from the event will provide an economic boost to the destination for some time to come.