GWSB’s Lisa Delpy Neirotti has brought students to the past 12 Olympic Games.
December 04, 2013
By Jay Conley
As Russia works feverishly to ready the resort village of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, a few dozen George Washington University graduate and undergraduate students are preparing to attend the games in dual roles as researchers and spectators.
Leading them will be Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sport management in GW’s School of Business, who has attended the last 16 Olympic Games. Dr. Neirotti has traveled around the world studying the development and organization of mega events such as the Olympics and the World Cup. Capitalizing on her international interests and contacts, she has organized and led the ultimate student study tour for every Olympic Games since 1992.
“We are very excited to be going to Sochi,” said Dr. Neirotti Tuesday evening as she hosted “An Insider’s Look at the 2014 Winter Olympics” for the GW Tourism Alumni Network at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.
Students pay their own way—as much as $2,000 and up for airfare and lodging at the games in Sochi that start next year on Feb. 7—but the experience and wealth of knowledge gained over the 12-day trip may be priceless. While students often work a jam-packed schedule gathering market research by interviewing participants in all economic facets of the event and meeting with Olympic executives and corporate sponsors, they also are privy to going behind the scenes and visiting venues. Dr. Neirotti was invited to Sochi almost exactly a year ago to view the progress of infrastructure improvements and to give a lecture on sports tourism and how to use Olympic venues after the games are over.
“They didn’t have one tourism person in the room when I was talking about sports tourism,” she said.
She described an attitude among Russian officials that focused on marketing the area mainly to Russians with little interest in tourists from other countries.
“I tried to give them all these ideas of how to fill the ski resort,” said Dr. Neirotti. “Maybe there are enough wealthy Russians who can fill the condos and ski resorts that they’ve built.”
To prepare for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, about 30,000 hotel rooms and three separate ski areas have been under construction. There are 400 snow machines to maintain those slopes, about a 40-minute drive from Sochi’s coastal location by the Black Sea. An Olympic park able to accommodate 70,000 visitors and a high-speed train to transport spectators are also nearing completion.
Dr. Neirotti notes that Russia’s initial bid estimated a budget of $12 billion for the games but has spent a reported $51 billion in preparations.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has concerns about Russia’s management of the games and its impact on attendance at events. Russian authorities are requiring onerous amounts of documentation for Olympic credentials, except for athletes, said Dr. Neirotti. The event may also face the threat of protests due to Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law that has been broadly criticized by human rights advocates.
Dr. Neirotti’s class will meet on campus before traveling to examine the organizational issues, expenses and history associated with the Olympics Games. Once in Sochi, Dr. Neirotti has arranged meetings between students and 30 executives who work for the IOC, the Sochi organizing committee, Olympic sponsors and the local government.
The students in the class will also get the opportunity to attend the U.S. vs. Russia men’s ice hockey and halfpipe events. Additionally, they will meet Elana Meyers, B.A. ’06, an alumna who won the bronze medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.
"Every Olympic Games has its own unique challenges and special characteristics,” Dr. Neirotti said. “I look forward to being able to lead another group of GW students to witness firsthand the details involved in hosting this mega-event from multiple perspectives. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go behind the scenes."