The Secret of Galway’s Volvo Ocean Race Success. 1

Or.. How Galway Won the Volvo Ocean Race.

Organisers of the World Yacht Racing Forum promoted the session relating to venues with the following paragraph:

Nautical tourism in the new buzz word in sailing sponsorship. More and more cities and ports are enjoying the financial, economic and branding success of hosting major sailing events. Panelists will discuss and debate the critical issues of how to maximise the benefits and mitigate the risks of hosting sailing events.

Maria Moynihan Lee, Festival Director City of Galway was obviously pleased with the value that the Volvo Ocean Race stopover provided to the city during 2009. One of the clues to the success of the event could be in Maria’s title – it’s not about sport. It’s not about sailing, but about major events that involve the whole city. Like Ericsson and Puma, Galway’s intent was to ‘Win’ the Volvo Ocean Race – not on the water, but off it, in the hearts and minds of those following.

Galway is a tourism based economy. In other words, there is an imperitive to fill hotel rooms and resturants and generate business with incomes of visitors rather than residents.

As pointed out in the presentation, the number of people in Ireland belonging to a yacht club number about 25,000 and there are an estimated 125,000 sailing fans in the whole of Ireland. Based on these numbers, Galway could not hope to make a return on a stopover, which is why the event had to have a broader appeal. The goal then was to:

Sell a visitor experience where all senses are used, combined with passion.

It’s not enough to talk about sailing, even when there is a national interest in one of the teams. Organisers thinking about the local economy have to think about the taste and smell of the event. So the Volvo Ocean Race visiting Galway was not a stopover, it was a party, the goal of which was to get people to remember and reccomend brand Ireland.

And people came for the craic, but the party was supported by 750 volunteers. Galway is a student town, which means that there is a ready, casual workforce to support such an influx of people. Without these small details, supporting an event of this nature often falls flat because the expectations of visitors are not met by local service standards.

And what point is an event of this nature, if there is no lasting benefit? Many organisers of such events are required to show a legacy benefit in order to trigger funding. While some traditional events are focussed purely on the competitors, there is evidence to show now that engaging schools and non-sailing groups has benefits to sailing as well as the community.

In Galway, the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race inspired 10,000 school children, creating fans and the platform for hero worship.

The numbers for Galway have been done and by all accounts the event was a resounding success. According to Volvo’s published numbers, Galway achieved:

  • Euros 55.8 million total impact – 30% above initial projections
  • Euros 36.5 million of spending by race spectators from outside the local region
  • 99% of international visitors would recommend Galway as a holiday destination

Maria ended with the statement:

Would we do it again. In a heartbeat.

  • Ricardo_Diniz

    Thanks for chasing this up and for publishing what I considered to be one of the most inspiring presentations and case studies of the World Yacht Racing Forum in Monaco. Maria and her team did an amazing job in Galway.