BUSINESS

THEY GOT GAMES

Jet Set Sports has no rival in Olympic tourism

COLIN CAMPBELL March 13 2006
BUSINESS

THEY GOT GAMES

Jet Set Sports has no rival in Olympic tourism

COLIN CAMPBELL March 13 2006

THEY GOT GAMES

BUSINESS

Jet Set Sports has no rival in Olympic tourism

COLIN CAMPBELL

Jet Set Sports, a New Jersey-based tour company, has been snooping around Vancouver recently, meeting with local business groups, looking for anything that might make the site of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games unique. It’s hoping to do in Vancouver what it did in Turin, effectively corner the market on Olympic tourism.

Jet Set, owned by Sead Dizdarevic, a native of the former Yugoslavia now living in the U.S., has become an Olympic Games hospitality giant, with exclusive rights to sell Olym-

pic tickets and tour packages in about a dozen countries, including Canada. It secures rights agreements with national Olympic committees and the host country’s organizing committee, through which most of the premium tickets and hotel rooms are doled out. Canadians who bought tickets or booked a hotel in Turin this year likely went through either Jet Set Sports (corporate clients) or CoSport, the arm of the company that deals with individuals. With 32 hotel properties (including at least one castle) and 500 employees at the recent Games, the company shepherded 15,000 clients through Turin.

The Olympic Games have become a highend travel destination, where the demand for luxury hotels, restaurants and hot tickets far outstrips the supply. While individual ticket prices to some events rival those of the Super Bowl, the real money is in packaged tours— where clients are met at the airport, get reservations at the best restaurants, and have tick-

ets and rides to select events. A typical fourday package can cost $10,000. “And it can go up from there,” said Mark Lewis, Jet Set’s president. At past games, Jet Set has gone so far as to rent out luxury cruise ships (Athens) and build its own temporary hotel (Lillehammer).

When Dizdarevic started Jet Set, he was a small-tour operator at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics (where he convinced Yugoslav military officers to host American visitors in their homes). He has steadily honed the company’s expertise at every Olympics since. “Our only business as a company is the Olympics,” said Lewis. “If you’re not experienced in what you’re doing, you can quickly find yourself in a bad situation.” That may explain why traditional tour companies don’t like to compete with Jet Set, which provided the only competitive bid the Canadian Olympic Committee received for Turin. “Unfortunately in Canada right now there aren’t a lot of companies that have taken an interest because of the risks associated with taking on so many of the tickets,” said Lou Ragagnin, the COC’s chief operating officer.

Neither Jet Set nor the COC would disclose the value of their partnership, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the company is estimated to have paid US$20 million for exclusive rights to market tickets and tours in the

U.S. for all Olympic Games from Turin to London 2012. On top of those national agreements, securing rights with the host city can cost as much as $10 million. Such sums became an issue in the scandal-plagued Salt Lake City Games, when Dizdarevic testified in U.S. court that in 1994 and 1995 he handed over US$131,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes to two U.S. Olympic organizers. He was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against the two, who were accused of bribing IOC members (the charges were dismissed).

In Canada, Jet Set has had a close relationship with the COC since Athens. Its office, which it rents from the COC, is headed by former COC marketing director Michael Patterson. Jet Set is now in talks with the Vancouver Organizing Committee to secure an agreement for the 2010 Games and will no doubt be looking to snatch up the best hotels, tickets, and even private homes for rent—all years before the flame is even lit. M