Hosting the FIFA World Cup brings benefits. But not as many as politicians claim
Published on: September 24, 2022 07:00 (EAT)
Brazilian fans during the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa. The boost to tourism came later.
World Cup kicks off on 20 November, when Qatar will
host Ecuador in the opening match. It will conclude on 18 December when the
final will be played in the 80 000-seater Lusail Iconic Stadium. In the
intervening weeks the world’s attention will be on Qatar, the smallest country
by land area ever to host the event. Having faced much criticism ever since
winning the bid, it is likely that Qatar would want to impress. Expect the
Qatar will not just be on every TV or mobile screen globally. More than 1
million tourists are expected to make the journey, providing a much-needed
economic injection. In fact, the Chief Operating Officer of Qatar Tourism,
Berthold Trenkel, has made it clear that Qatar aims to wow visitors with far
more than just football. Over the last few months, new beaches, theme parks,
and water sports hotels have opened. And 1 November will see the opening of the
much-anticipated Lusail Winter Wonderland, an island full of tourist
attractions that, according to its website, offer the ‘ultimate entertainment
and lifestyle celebration’.
are these expectations of higher tourist numbers realistic?
have thought about this question for some time. When countries bid for
mega-sport events like the FIFA World Cup, their politicians often make bold
predictions about the likely tourism effects. They tend to use these same
numbers to convince their taxpayers to fork out the additional costs of new
infrastructure. And it makes sense: an event that attracts so much global
attention must surely increase its appeal, attracting new audiences and future
as several economists have pointed out, there are many reasons to doubt these
thing to keep in mind is displacement: tourists that would normally visit a
destination might decide to stay away because of a mega-event, reducing the net
number of arrivals. The displacement size might be affected by many things: the
season in which the mega-event is held, for example, or the type of mega-event.
Bigger events, like the Summer Olympics, are likely to draw more visitors than
the Basketball World Cup.
the size of the tourism bonanza is even as bizarre as which countries qualify
for the event. In a 2017 paper, we showed that Thierry Henry’s
handball in a qualification game between France and the Republic of Ireland for
the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which allowed France to qualify for the finals,
brought almost 30,000 additional tourists to South Africa, creating more than
6000 additional jobs.
is because France is a much larger country than Ireland, with far more tourists
visiting South Africa - despite France’s dismal performance - than the number
of Irish tourists that would have come had Ireland qualified.
how much mega-sport events actually boost tourism is a question we first
attempted to answer more than a decade ago. Our first paper published in 2011 showed that
hosting an event such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games increased
tourism by about 8%, on average. Although the average was sizeable, it masked
some variation across the different events we studied: the Summer Olympics had
big effects, the Rugby World Cup, not so much.
recently published a follow-up paper. We updated our time series
(now covering all tourist arrivals from 1995 to 2019); we added a wider
selection of mega-sport events (from six to eleven); and we incorporated new
techniques to estimate the gravity model. We also tested a wider range of
our updated analysis, we are even more skeptical of the large tourism effect of
mega-sport events. While we still find a large and positive effect on hosting
the Summer Olympic Games – a sizeable 18.2% – most other events reveal zero or
even negative change.
the Cricket World Cup, for example, reduces the number of tourist arrivals.
This is partly explained by the fact that it happens in the peak tourist season
and is often hosted by rich countries. The displacement effect is larger than
the number of new visitors.
some might say, the main benefit of hosting an event is that tourism numbers
increase in the years after an event – not necessarily during the event itself.
We tested this and found a very small legacy effect. In fact, we find a larger
anticipatory effect: host countries tended to welcome additional tourists a
year or two before hosting an event.
suggests that an important part of hosting a mega-sport event is signalling the
country’s openness to tourists, but also to investors and the broader
is important to keep in mind that our analysis is not a cost-benefit analysis.
To properly evaluate the economic benefits of hosting a sport event – of which
tourism is one – the benefits must be weighed against the costs, such as
building new stadiums or transportation networks.
given how important tourism is in justifying a new bid, we believe it is
valuable to ask whether these hopeful promises are ever fulfilled.
final finding also has implications for future bids. We found that developing
countries see larger increases in tourism than developed countries. The next
three Summer Olympic Games will be held in France, the US, and Australia. Qatar
and a joint effort by the US, Canada, and Mexico will host the next two FIFA
the seven host countries for the five largest sporting events, only one is a
developing country. We conclude:
“If this trend continues, the
returns we have measured above are unlikely to be repeated for future mega-sport
events. That would imply that the era of hosting mega-sport events because they
increase tourism is over.”
All is not lost, though. Several developing countries are
bidding to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup. These include Morocco, a joint bid from Uruguay,
Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, and an inter-confederation bid from Egypt,
Greece, and Saudi Arabia. If boosting tourism is indeed one of the main priorities
of host countries, then one of these bids is most likely to increase tourist
arrivals, even without a Winter Wonderland.
Professor, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University
Gallego; Associate Professor, Universitat de les Illes Balears