4 Lessons Event Planners Can Take from 2016 Rio Olympics

The 2016 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, open on Friday. Although every Olympic host city faces challenges, these particular games have been plagued by many major problems.

The issues have come from every direction—the country’s economic and political instability have led to funding issues and construction delays, human rights violations and police brutality have made news around the world, and Zika virus has caused athletes and tourists to rethink making the trip.

Many people around the world are watching closely to see if Rio is up to the task of hosting the world’s biggest event, and visitors are advised to take precautions. Meeting and event professionals, particularly those planning group trips abroad, can learn from these suggested measures.

Be prepared for Zika virus.

The mosquito-borne virus, which causes babies born to women who contracted Zika during pregnancy to be more vulnerable to severe birth defects, has led several prominent athletes to skip the Rio Olympics.

The virus is no longer limited to faraway tropical locations such as Brazil. Local mosquito-borne Zika virus cases have recently been reported in Florida. Currently, there is no way to prevent or treat Zika infections, so women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant are advised to take steps to prevent infection.

Planners who are holding events outdoors or in areas with Zika can assist attendees in a few ways:
Promote awareness about the virus, the risk of contracting it and its symptoms.
Offer tips for preventing mosquito bites, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to minimize exposed skin.
Give away insect repellent and encourage attendees to use it.

Don’t skip site visits!

Don’t let attendees arrive at their hotel after a long day in transit only to find unsatisfactory accommodations. That’s what happened to the Australian national team upon arrival at the Olympic Village in Rio. Australian authorities called the accommodations, which smelled of gas and had blocked toilets, plumbing leaks and exposed wires, “uninhabitable.” The team had to stay in nearby hotels while emergency fixes were made.

Site selection is a critical step in event planning, and site visits are crucial to the process. Seeing the venue in person will help you ensure that the venue and accommodations will meet your requirements and provide attendees with a great stay.

Choose a destination with great transportation infrastructure.

Rio has made headlines for transportation issues surrounding the Olympic Games. It is one of the most congested cities in the world, with a very limited subway system—which makes travel an issue for groups.

A new subway line that connects to Olympic Park was originally meant to open in 2014, but just opened on Monday, less than a week before Friday’s opening ceremony. Transportation experts have questioned the safety of the new line, noting that authorities have not rigorously tested it with passengers. Olympics attendees will be among the first riders, meaning they will effectively be testing the new line.

Meeting planners can make travel easier for attendees by selecting a destination with good public transportation and highway systems. The trolley system in San Diego, for example, makes it simple for groups to reach San Diego Convention Center from just about anywhere in the city.

Make security a priority.

Every large event brings safety and security concerns, and the Olympics are no exception. Athletes have reported being mugged or having items stolen from their rooms. Tourists have been warned to be vigilant while in Rio. Brazil’s government aims to boost event security by hiring 85,000 security personnel to patrol Olympic sites and key locations, such as major airports.

Aside from utilizing a highly trained team of security personnel, it’s important for planners to have emergency procedures in place in case an incident occurs. Emergency plans should be created for a variety of emergency situations. Staff should perform drills to ensure all team members are familiar with the protocols and can calmly handle any situation that arises.