Jane Ali-Knight: Capital must go for gold and make most of Games

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Scotland will benefit from the Olympics in London, insists director of the Edinburgh Institute, Dr Jane Ali-Knight

THE build-up to the greatest show on earth is in full swing. One million people are expected to descend on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, with about a quarter coming from overseas.

Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle will orchestrate the opening ceremony, which in itself will cost more than £80 million – a fraction of the £9 billion overall bill for the Games.

The result, I have no doubt, will be spectacular and, in terms of preparation, London is on course to match – and perhaps surpass – the huge successes of Sydney and Beijing.

Many enthusiastic Scots, of course, will help swell their stadiums and streets come July and August.

But while some are salivating at the thought of a feast of sport, the reaction north of the border has largely been more muted.

“What’s in it for Edinburgh or Scotland?” has been the common refrain.

Some have suggested that the limited number of Olympic events being conducted here will see few Olympic opportunities or legacies resulting from the Games.

Others have fretted about the pulling power of the Olympics and its impact on Edinburgh’s festivals.

Up to a point, they have an argument.

Yes, only two small Olympic teams – Namibia and Zambia – have chosen to base their training camps up here. And, yes, the events taking place in Scotland are contained to early football games, and ticket sales for those Hampden Park encounters have, so far, been relatively poor.

But to simply dismiss the Games as a “London” event is to overlook the genuine benefit it has brought to the Scottish event industry.

To start with, more than 50 cultural events, with an estimated attendance of 300,000, will be staged in Scotland – all supported by £5m in government funding. These events will offer business opportunities for a range of events suppliers, both in regional centres such as Stirling and in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

For many Scottish event industry businesses, London 2012 has also provided the first foray into the world of tendering for large-scale contracts. It’s an experience that will prove invaluable in the lead up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. Indeed, the vast majority have already been won by Scottish companies.

The global visibility of the Olympics is also enormous – billions will watch on TV alone – and with that comes the opportunity for Edinburgh to launch itself to new audiences.

Organisers are planning for around 1500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, 20,000 press and media, and ticket sales of more than 9m. More than 200 countries plan to send delegations.

Even a small fraction of those visitors choosing to visit Edinburgh raises our profile. Global media could, for instance, be tempted north with travel passes and free tickets to relevant Festival shows, and the same could be done for the thousands of international VIPs, business leaders and foreign dignitaries for whom the UK Government has bought tickets.

Meanwhile, the torch relay that will bring the flame to Scotland in June will be another moment to shine.

Olympics aside, the next few years will be huge for the Scottish events industry. Events such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have firmly established us as a world-class events destination and we now have Homecoming, the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup in 2014.

While they can’t match the Olympics for sheer size, each will bring the gaze of the world to our shores – and there is clear evidence that such major events can drive economic growth, engender civic pride and generate a positive impact and legacy.

One undoubted outcome will be the enhancement of our standing for large-scale event excellence and expertise – or our Scottish “brand” – as well as a raft of real opportunities for those within, or aspiring to work, within the industry.

Countries around the world are already hungry to learn from us. In my own capacity as director of the Edinburgh Institute at Edinburgh Napier University I help deliver courses to destinations such as Hong Kong.

London may take the lion’s share of the limelight this summer but it won’t be long before it turns to Scotland. To capitalise, we need as much experience as possible, and the more we connect with London 2012, the better prepared we will be.

• Edinburgh Napier University will be delivering an executive certificate in event management from January 23-26 at the Apex Hotel, Waterloo Place. For more information phone 0131-455 4642 or look online at www.napier.ac.uk