With less than 300 days until the opening of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France, the ticketing of the games will only grow in importance, and with the games taking place a century since the last time Paris hosted the Olympics (1924), it is a unique moment for the global sporting showcase and one that is in high demand.
In order to accommodate this the International Olympic Council (IOC) announced in 2021 that it would be revolutionizing its ticketing model from 2024 onward by centralizing all travel and hospitality offerings through one provider, On Location.
“In the past, there were what was called authorized ticket resellers in different countries who enabled some ticket sales and maybe they'd sell some hotels, maybe they'd put up low-level hospitality in the city,” explains Will Whiston, executive vice president of Olympics & Paralympics at On Location.
“This is a watershed moment for the Olympics because now there's one single global provider at a professional level who can make the Olympic experience that much more different, and bring it to the level it deserves.”
A global experiential hospitality provider, On Location is the exclusive hospitality partner of the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, as well as the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics.
The company has a background in providing hospitality experiences for major sporting events, doing so for American football’s National Football League and golf’s PGA Tour among others, but Whiston believes that Paris 2024 is on a different scale altogether.
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“It is different because the Olympics transcend sport,” states Whiston. “It's a cultural event, as much as it is a sporting event, which is what truly differentiates it from other sporting events.”
Whiston adds this changes the target market the company is hoping to sell packages to, changing the aim to a unique demographic: “You’re not just attracting football fans for World Cup, not just attracting golf fans for the PGA events or the Masters. You're attracting citizens of the globe, people interested in one sport and want to experience others, and you're creating new fans for new sports.”
Bringing in all of Paris
An On Location package for the Olympics can cover everything from tickets to the games, accommodation and travel, to restaurant bookings, and even access to tourist attractions. With as iconic a locale as Paris hosting the games, a major part of On Location’s hospitality offerings will be leveraging the city’s unique cultural scene.
Whiston explains: “We're not just hospitality within Wembley or a football stadium in any part of Europe. We think about and refine and perfect every movement, every part of the customer journey.
“We're bringing in all of Paris. That is to say, we've secured exclusive access to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay, and we've got partnerships with dozens of destination management companies and tour operators within Paris so that people can experience [the games] in the morning, and then experience Paris in the afternoon in a way they wouldn't be able to outside of the games.”
On Location has secured thousands of rooms across Paris, with reservations with a number of acclaimed restaurants across the city within walking distance of those rooms, providing an offering that may otherwise be unattainable.
Despite the scale of this undertaking, early signs suggest that it is one that will pay dividends for both On Location and the IOC.
With the exception of a couple of sports, most notably surfing which is taking place on the island of Tahiti in French Polynesia, On Location is offering customers packages based on the vast majority of the Olympics’ events. More than doubling the previous range of sport-based hospitality options, On Location is serving 25 of the game’s events, and has already seen sellouts for the likes of Judo, fencing, and equestrian, as well as showpiece sessions such as the traditional format basketball finals.
“We've already seen sellouts almost a year out. The World Cup does not experience that, neither has the Olympics, and that was before the middle of September when we saw interest dramatically increase, we're seeing an awakening around the globe for this offering.”
Reaching a global fanbase
One thing that underpins this giant undertaking is the need to innovate in order to ensure the needs of the massive customer base are met. One thing that Whiston stresses is that technology has been key to ensuring the smooth operation of the process.
From an initial awareness-spreading point of view, the use of technology has been key in attracting purchasers from over 90 different countries, a figure that Whiston states is a record.
Beyond simply attracting customers, however, the provision of hospitality at the games will require an even larger reliance on tech to ensure the smooth operation of its business.
“Technology is obviously a key part of that to be able to communicate with the guests on-site,” explains Whiston. “It allows them to adjust what event they go to and allows us to operate a full network of over 1000 vehicles that transport people around the city in a seamless, carefree, high-service way. Technology underpins all of that.”
Amid all of this, the scale of the undertaking means questions must be asked about the viability of hospitality provision from a commercial standpoint.
Whiston argues that in order to secure the project’s viability, partnership is the name of the game.
“We have established marketing partnerships with dozens of different brands and organizations, whether it's the broadcaster's or the Olympic movements, whether it's the national Olympic committees, the international federations within the Olympics, the other top sponsors, effectively any brand or organization that really touches the Olympics is a partner of ours, which counts to hundreds of different organizations," he says.
With the event fast approaching, On Location has already attracted customers from over 90 countries, buyers numbering in the thousands, owing to the company’s establishment of an international network of in-house sales teams spanning 20 countries.
In addition, it has sales partnerships with 20 other firms in different regions of the world that are better able to penetrate these markets due to a greater understanding of the languages, cultural preferences, and desires of the consumers. All this is in service of attracting a truly global consumer base.
Despite all this, revenue generation is not how On Location intends to gauge the success of the 2024 games from a business point of view. Whiston explains that the company’s success criteria are twofold.
“One, how many people we reach from different parts of the world. We're making a global product, the number of people we service and the diversity of them is going to be a key metric for us because it wouldn't be the Olympics if we didn't have that, and then, of course, the customer satisfaction after the fact in terms of service levels, surveys on-site and off-site. That satisfaction and the return customers for the next games, those are really critical ways that we judge the success of this.”
Sustainability too is a massive part of the Olympics, and the games’ hospitality offerings are no exception.
“Not only do we have financial budgets, but just like Paris 2024. We have sustainability budgets, meaning that there's only a certain amount of non-sustainable activity that you can utilize,” Whiston reveals.
The company is limiting the use of its transport network in order to cut down emissions. Only those who purchase a package with private transport will be able to access such, while public transport will be utilized for other tiers of guests. It means that the company is in line with the sustainable vision that the IOC and Paris 2024 have laid out.
The future of Olympic hospitality
Paris 2024 marks a change in how people will attend future Olympics. Where previously ticket touting and unofficial vendors were prevalent, now there are only two official ways to attend the games, either through the official IOC channel or with On Location’s hospitality and travel access.
The new system means that the way people attend the Olympics will be changed for the foreseeable future, and it means that On Location has to adapt to the changing dynamics of the different events is must help facilitate the Olympics over the coming five years.
“We can confidently say that this is the most sophisticated commercial effort for a major event in industry history,” said Whiston of the undertaking, but one thing he stresses is that On Location is always looking to the future.
“We’re always learning and growing,” he said. “With your first [Olympics] you're always learning about what specific audiences are looking for what specific sports, and it's only going to help us in the future to refine the experience and continue to improve upon it.”
“The biggest learning,” Whiston explains, “is that there's incredible interest in this and that we are humbly in the position to have an opportunity to really change the landscape of the Olympic Games on site.”