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Rio Gets Ready

Paris would not be the same today without the Eiffel Tower. Seattle’s skyline is dominated by the Space Needle. Beijing has The Water cube, where Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals. London has Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Host cities of major events – a World’s Fair, the Olympics or a World Cup – change their footprints thanks to global gatherings for sharing art, design education and sport.

This summer eyes across the globe are focused on Rio de Janeiro for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. And while the athletes steal the spotlight – and rightly so – there’s a side we don’t often think about: The businesses and services that support these games and infrastructure changes to host an event of this caliber.

As I write this, the Olympic Torch is moving around the world slowly building the buzz that comes every two years. At the ceremony that kicked off the torch run, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said, “The flame is an ancient symbol of peace and harmony, a symbol of the power of humanity to come together despite our differences. This will be the greatest legacy of the Olympic Games for Brazil and for the world.”

It is a rare event that welcomes fire on board an aircraft, but the Olympic games are just such an event. LATAM Airlines created a special support structure to secure the lamp carrying the Olympic flame across the ocean, and on August 5, the flame will open the XXXI Olympic games and Rio will forever be changed.

Olympic host cities have fared differently over the past 50 years. Those with great foresight and ingenuity plan for the post-games experience during the bidding process. Questions must be asked. Will the community be able to maintain these venues afterwards or should plans be modified?

In London, the host of the 2012 Olympic Games, the East End was transformed with new facilities and greatly improved public transport. But much of the transformation is still underway. In 1992 Spain used the Olympics in Barcelona together with the World’s Fair in Seville as a sort of coming out party. Barcelona added roads and new green areas and two miles of beachfront that didn’t exist before. The $11 million budget ran over but has put Barcelona back on the map; today it’s the fourth-most-popular travel destination in Europe following London, Paris and Istanbul – much bigger cities.

Cities that have universities have fared better in their post-Olympic lives. Venues can be absorbed by campuses and used to support student activities. For example, in Atlanta, the former Olympic swimming and diving venues were taken over by Georgia Tech and continue to be used by NCAA athletes.

The goal of all host cities is to leverage as much of the economic resources put into the games to make the community better and stronger – but it isn’t easy.

In Rio and the surrounding host cities, 48,000 hotel beds have been added to prepare for the deluge of Olympic faithful. Properties have few vacancies for the upcoming games, but will they weather the post-Olympics economic storm? We will have to wait and see.  

LATAM Airlines has scheduled 100 additional domestic flights in Brazil and has the ability to add 200 more. During the past year airline employees have done thousands of hours of planning and additional training to ensure smooth transit for customers and their luggage. A special control center will be staffed 24/7 during the games to address any challenges.  

As the calendar races toward August 5, I await the spectacle and wonder of the opening ceremonies for an event that brings the world together to celebrate the motto for 2016, “Live your passion.” For two weeks we’ll share in the triumphs and defeats, the human stories that are the Olympic games. Rio will be transformed. And so will the people who have done the work who make this epic event possible for all of us.  

By Elizabeth Atkinson