NZIER: Hosting large events like the RWC are expensive undertakings. But most impact event analysis doesn't stack up. Benefits often far smaller than believed

By NZIER Senior Economist Chris Schilling

Major international events attract extra visitors during the event. But events tend to ‘suck in’ visitors from before and after the event, when people coincide the timing of visits with the event.

This ‘displacement’ effect means the net number of visitors an event generates is much lower than the visitors to the event. The Rugby World Cup 2011 is a good example. We estimate there was little overall boost to visitor arrivals because there were fewer visitors before and after the 133,000 international visitors that came to New Zealand for the tournament (see figure 1). [1]

Most regional event analysis also misses expenditure displacement

Crucially, domestic tourism is displaced expenditure that would occur elsewhere in the economy. This significantly reduces the overall benefit from the events.

Simply put, major domestic events do not make New Zealanders any wealthier. Increased spending at the major event is mostly offset by reduced spending elsewhere. This might be reductions in other holidays, spending on take-aways and eating out, or spending on household items such as TVs.

Most event analyses use multipliers to capture second rounds of spending from the profits and wages captured by local events. But the multipliers used to capture second round spending also need to be applied to the reduction in spending that cannot now occur elsewhere in the economy.

The displaced expenditure argument makes for a clear policy recommendation: if international events bring extra money into New Zealand they have net benefits to New Zealand. Regional events are more likely to only reallocate spending across regions. They are likely to benefit the region, but at a national level let’s be clear – little additional income is generated by these events.


Figure 1 People shift the timing of visits to coincide with events, displacing visitor arrivals

Seasonally adjusted and trend visitors arrivals; Source: Statistics New Zealand

Infrastructure expenditure also must be funded

Large international events, like the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics, leave the host region with better facilities, and sometimes upgraded transport links. But infrastructure is expensive, and the costs are largely borne by local residents once tourism displacement is considered. In addition, the costs of major events typically blow out. Research by the Saïd Business School at Oxford University shows that every Olympics since 1960 averaged a cost overrun of 179%. [2] Event analysis needs to consider who pays for the infrastructure, and any likely cost overruns.

For the large costs to stack up economically, the infrastructure needs to deliver lasting dividends long after the major event is finished. This means sound planning so that the business case for the infrastructure stands up over the long term. The East London development for the London 2012 Olympics appears sound, investing in an area that was otherwise run-down; similarly developments of the Barcelona waterfront for the 1996 Olympics have left lasting benefits to the city. The event analysis needs to consider the usage of infrastructure long after the event has finished.

A better approach to evaluating tourism events

There are a range of implications for evaluating the economic benefits of major events:

1.     The national benefits of any major event will largely be dependent on increases in international tourism. The numbers used in evaluations must consider displacement effects.

2.     The perspective of the evaluation matters. A major event might have net benefits for a region, but be welfare-reducing for the country as a whole.

3.     The analysis must be consider who pays for the infrastructure. When there are few new tourists, the costs are likely to fall on the local region.  

4.     The analysis is complex, with different impacts across industries and regions. The economy-wide impact of a major event depends on how tourism crowds out other sectors. This depends on capital and labour constraints, and the state of the economy (Dwyer et al 2005).

These points are the reason why NZIER has made Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) modelling the tool of choice to evaluate events. The Australian Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre (STCRC) support that view. CGE modelling captures displaced expenditure across industries and regions, and who ends up paying for any infrastructure costs.

An alternative approach is to use the input-output (I-O) or multiplier models. But these models do not include key economic constraints, price changes or displacement impacts and therefore overestimate the benefits of major events. Dwyer et al (2005) find I-O model estimates are 180% to 500% higher than CGE estimates.

Be clear about the impacts of major events

Major events that can bring new tourists can generate positive benefits for a region. However, these events are costly undertakings that need to be evaluated using analysis that holds up to scrutiny. Simple multiplier analysis that overstates short-run benefits by ignoring displaced visitors and displaced expenditure simply doesn’t cut it.


Dwyer, L, Forsyth, P and Spurr, R. (2005). Estimating the impacts of Special Events on the Economy. Journal of Travel Research, Vol 43, pp 351-359.

Dwyer, L and Spurr, R. (2010). Tourism Economics Summary. STCRC for Economics and Policy.

MacFarlane, I and Jago, L. (2009). The role of brand equity in helping to evaluate the contribution of major events.  STCRC for Economics and Policy.

Oxford Economics (2012). The Economic Impact of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

[1] Professor Dickson (Auckland University of Technology) suggests net new arrivals could be as few as 25,000.


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i always get concerned when i hear people promoting the building of new stadiums or promoting a particular event when the use the term; ECONOMIC BENEFIT;
i always ask how much,who to ,will you garauntee it andhow will i benefit.
sadly the answers never stack up .

Someone better tell the CCC - about ter build a tripled-in-size Convention Centre that will generate Untold Wealth.

No doubt the rugby stadium will do similarly!

Pity us down here in Dunedin where the Forsyth Barr (aka Foresight Barred) Stadium Operating Company has just posted a $3.2million loss for its first year, nearly a million dollars more than its forecast loss of just a few months ago. (See today's ODT article
There is another link within this article to a report on how the Dunedin City Council attempted to sneak these figures through without proper reporting of them. We are now very used to this sort of thing.
Still, the economic benefit to the City must more than make up for the $500 plus it is costing its 51,000  beleaguered ratepayers every year (just for construction costs, never mind ongoing losses!) The only way the DCC avoided a 25% rates rise this eyar and kept it down to 4.9% was by borrowing a further $23.2 million. Oh what a tangled web we weave ...