From the time Sochi was selected as host of the 2014 Olympics, corporations were hesitant about going there. Too many toos. Too unknown. Too far. Too costly to travel. Too dangerous. Too different from Rio. Too off the map. This turned off corporate execs and their guests.
When corporate execs (who are also sports fans) take clients (also sports fans) to major sporting events -- it's about more than just enjoying the game. The invitor gets hours upon hours in the most exciting setting imaginable to talk up their company and products while the invitee is thrilled to listen in between historic events. It can often lead to an "on the spot" deal. The success of the corporate invite isn't surprising -- the easiest way to get time from a prospect or valuable customer is by taking them to an exclusive event.
Since 1984 when the Olympics began wooing the corporate set, one destination after another has hosted high-end travelers enjoying globally known locales like Vancouver, London and Salt Lake City. Sochi is a different story. Sochi is an unfamiliar city in an unknown region insurance companies consider unstable. While that may not matter to the casual fan, it is an important aspect of travel for the business elite whose companies carry policies for their executives. Coupling all of these variables with the already immensely popular FIFA World Cup in exotic Rio this coming summer leads to the softly attended games we’ve seen.
Sochi has reported that it has sold a vast majority of their tickets for these games. Looking at the details, however, shows that number to be inflated by significant discounts and smaller venues to previous games in Vancouver and Salt Lake City. Sochi is hoping we don't notice how the tickets were sold, just that they were sold. To those of us on the inside however, there are the very clear signs of brokers looking to liquidate anything they have at a massive discount and empty seats for the biggest events.
Sochi will go into the history books as a flop on the high-end corporate travel side. It will be quickly forgotten in only a few months as the corporate elite will literally “take their business elsewhere” to Rio for what is setting up to be one of the highest demand World Cups we've ever seen.
The winner in all of this: Rio. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa flopped terribly with the corporate set, much like Sochi is doing today, causing large ticket brokers and corporate travel "experts" like Razor Gator to practically go bankrupt. Corporations love large global events in destination locations and the failures of South Africa and Sochi have set Rio up with the opportunity of a lifetime. Is it ready yet? Stay tuned.