Events are frequently used to attract tourists to a destination, but also to strength the identity of the residents with their city. This study is based upon the premise that a mega cultural event can, in a significant degree, change some of the attributes of city’s identity as they are perceived by their residents. Specifically, the objective of the study is to identify the attributes of the city and compare the differences between different groups of residents (attendees vs. non-attendees) before and after the event. Then, we focus our attention on the effects of the cultural mega event on the engaged participants, that is, the residents of the city that really have been involved and participated on the Guimarães ECOC 2012 (European Capital of Culture). Several significant findings are reported and their implications for event managers and public policy administrators presented, along with the limitations of the study.
Discussion and implications
The present study attempted to examine the impact of one particular mega event (the Guimarães ECOC 2012) on the perceived identity and image of the residents. Contrary to the initial expectations, the factor “heritage and environment” and their items had not increased with the event among the city’s residents (attendees and non-attendees). However, the mean values for the six items were relatively high (above 4 in a five point scale), suggesting that this dimension was relevant in the identity of the city, but reveals mixed feelings among residents about the consequences of the mega event for the preservation of historical buildings and the general quality of the environment. As the results were not statistically significant we could infer that perceptions about the identity of the city have not changed significantly, maintaining its relevancy among the other dimensions. This is consistent with the richness of the historical and cultural heritage of the city recognized by UNESCO in 2001. On the other hand, the perceptions about the tangible cultural heritage of the city has not changed significantly as the majority of the activities have been developed during the event were outside the public space and historic buildings (Guimarães 2012 Capital Europeia da Cultura, 2013, pp. 34-36). This is in line with the findings of Richards and Wilson (2004) who found that the image of Rotterdam (after ECOC 2001) as a cultural destination improved, but the physical and tangible elements of the city’s image continued to dominate. Iordanova-Krasteva, Wickens and Bakir (2010) reinforce this idea based on the evaluation of Linz ECOC 2009.
The “Arts” dimension reflects a critical aspect of Guimarães ECOC 2012, as one of the axes of the programming area was art, which for the purposes of the event, has been divided in cinema and audiovisual, performing arts, music, and art and architecture. Overall, this programming area accounted for half of the events (49.6%) approximately. The results show a consensus among all residents, even non-attendees, about the positive effects of Guimarães ECOC 2012 on the attitudes of their residents towards arts. This might be explained by the significant amount of events (music, cinema, theatre) that took place during the ECOC that increased the awareness of residents for arts. Previous research has indicated that the image of a city as a cultural destination could be improved by mega cultural events (Ritchie and Smith, 1991; Richards and Wilson, 2004; Freitas Santos et al., 2011; European Parliament, 2013; Liu, 2014).
In relation to the sports dimension, statistical significant differences were observed among attendees, while the relevance of sports for non-attendees was neglected. The present evidence suggests that the contribution of sports activities in shaping the city’s identity was limited to some segments of residents. As a matter of fact, sports activities were not chosen to be directly associated with the Guimarães ECOC 2012 by the organization due to some prejudice of cultural agents regarding sports. However, as noted by Ritchie and Smith (1991) regarding the Olympic Winter Games, the levels of awareness and the image of the city could be substantially improved if more activities have been promoted in this area. Nonetheless, the organization sponsored the main football team, but other sports received minor attention.
In relation to the dimension “performances”, during the Guimarães ECOC 2012, the cultural life of the city have been intensified by the implementation of almost 1.300 cultural events. Interestingly, significant positive differences were only observed among non-attendees. Hence, it seems that only the residents that not attended the event have changed the perception about this particular attribute of city’s identity. A feasible explanation could be related with the huge number of events that took place during the mega event that confers dynamism to the cultural life of the city and could be easily felt, mostly by non-attendees. The findings of the study commissioned by the European Parliament (2013, p. 113) show that “impacts upon the host city’s existing cultural system and future plans for cultural activity are the most prolific areas of reported beneficial impact from ECOCs”.
With respect to local arts, only non-attendees showed statistical significant differences caused by the impact of the mega event, with an increase in the awareness of this dimension, particularly in the item craftwork, which is more related with open air trade fairs than indoor restricted exhibitions.
Regarding the legacy for the future of Guimarães, if local tourism authorities deserve to extend the positive effects of ECOC beyond 2012, the marketing strategy should be to maintain the level of cultural activities, mixing smaller events with high profile events as stated by Ritchie and Smith (1991), Jago et al. (2003), and the recommendations made to European Parliament (2013).
These results generate valuable implications for both event managers and public policy administrators. Firstly, the study provides an evaluation before and after the mega cultural event that reflects the impact on the main attributes of city’s identity. This provides managers and administrators with a clearer set of attributes to analyze the effects of cultural activities on future event performance. Therefore, it can be used as a guide to manage more efficiently the dimensions of the city’s identity and planning future cultural events. Secondly, in a fierce competition for tourists, investments and residents the creation of dynamic competitive advantages by cities must be based on soft attributes (quality of life, security, culture, urban lifestyle, etc.) rather than hard factors (infrastructures, transportation, etc.). The improvement of city’s soft attributes after the mega event offer policy makers an opportunity to competitively differentiate the city’s personality both domestically and internationally.
Thirdly, the results allow the policy makers and managers to align economic, cultural and tourism development with city’s identity elements, image and positioning. As many cities are beginning to compete on branding, there is a need to raise their profile, and create a differentiated identity and image. However, managers must be aware of the difficulties of the process, as city’s identity and image is the outcome of a diversity of regional perceptions that are often separate political entities.
Finally, the city’s identity and image is composed of multiple pieces that must be connected with the interests of different people. The findings indicated how different types of residents (attendees and non-attendees) have been involved in the ECOC2012, providing guidance to an adequate planning of future events. A bottom-up approach is recommended to managers in order to collect useful information by previously ascertain whether different audiences expected to participate.
The evidence reported requires acknowledging the limitations of the current study that might inhibit the generalization of the results. The first limitation concerns the samples used in the study: they are non-probabilistic; differ in terms of size (non-proportionate); and the sampling unit and the unit about which the information was gathered may be different. However, no significant differences with regard to sampling characteristics (gender, age, education, income) exist, offering less concern about the representativity of the sample. Additionally, the results of a causal-comparative research should be interpreted with caution, as not only the mega event might caused the observed effects, but also different categories of extraneous variables (history, maturation, mortality) may have influenced the changes occurred between the two periods of time and the differences among groups of residents (Malhotra, 2007).
J. Freitas Santos
J. Cadima Ribeiro
(reprodução de resumo e secção de discussão de resultados de comunicação apresentada na 2014 International Business Conference, que decorreu em San Francisco, EUA, entre 3 e 7 de Agosto)