After waiting 4 years since the last edition in Japan, France bowed out early of its Men’s Rugby World Cup campaign on home soil. And while the world watched on as other teams advanced, the French hope that the tournament turns out to be an economic success.
Large-scale sporting events attract many tourists and their spending, and less than a year away from hosting the Olympics, France can learn a lot from this experience. So, what does the World Cup mean for French tourism?
RUGBY WORLD CUPS CAN BE A TOURISM MAGNET
Big events are big money. Host countries spend billions on infrastructure, transport, security and other costs, with the aim of generating a positive return, in part through a surge in tourist arrivals and spending. Indeed, for the last Men’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, 1.84 million tickets were sold, attracting 242,000 international visitors. Most of those fans were visiting Japan for the first time, and visitors stayed for an average of 16 days.
When England and Wales hosted the last edition of the competition on European soil in 2015, arrivals were even higher, with an estimated 406,000 international visitors travelling for the occasion, albeit with shorter stays than in Japan. Arrivals for France 2023 are expected to be even higher. According to Le Monde, France is expecting to welcome at least 600,000 visitors, almost 50% more than 2015 and nearly double the number when the Championship was last held in France in 2007.
REGIONAL TOURISM POTENTIAL
The impact of the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be felt across France. There will have been 48 rugby matches played in 10 French cities over the 6 weeks of the tournament, with participating teams settled in 20 base camps, spread out across 9 French regions.
Calculating the overall boost to tourism can be challenging, as it requires adjusting for activity that would have occurred regardless of the event, as well as potential visitors deterred by the event or, indeed, activities that did not occur, or were at least forestalled, as a result of it.
However, despite the challenges, hosts are increasingly aware of, and plan for, the opportunities events like these provide for more long-term tourism attraction. The includes the opportunity to showcase different regions, to encourage tourists towards less frequently visited places. This may be particularly relevant for France, as it looks at ways to ease ‘over-tourism’ in the capital.
MANAGING THE MANIA
Yet there are pros and cons to hosting large-scale sporting events for local communities. A sudden influx of visitors, if not well managed, can lead to excessive crowding, safety and security risks, transport delays, vandalism, noise and pollution. There may also be environmental damage: large events can have a sizeable carbon footprint. The Rugby World Cup estimates fans’ international travel for the tournament will generate 350,000 tonnes of CO2. Huge amounts of waste will also be generated.
On the other hand, large-scale events can also be leveraged for deeper economic and social impacts, when used as part of wider policy programmes. In 2023, 83% of team travel between the competition venues will be done by train, not by plane – prompting fans to follow in their footsteps, and potentially encouraging more to switch to greener long-term travel behaviour.
CAN IT LAST?
France – and its cities – will hope that sports fans will return to provide a longer-term boost to the tourism sectors, and so are working hard to promote their broader offer, including through city branding strategies and new partnerships. Research has suggested that the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, for instance, increased collaboration between local tourism organisations in different regions. This year’s tournament in France is a unique opportunity for regions and cities to showcase their local identity and culture through side-events, encouraging return visits.
Ultimately, the South Africa Springboks lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy on 28 October in the Stade de France. But for France, this World Cup could make a lasting impact… despite not prevailing on the field.
OECD work on global events offers guidance on how to better leverage major sporting events for local development.
Find out more about the OECD work on tourism here.
This article is also available in French.