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OPINION - Destination: Sochi

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  I’ve seen enough of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to know this: it will never become the luxury winter-sports resort that Vladimir Putin envisions. Jackson Hole and St. Moritz have nothing to fear.

The biggest challenge may actually be the weather. For a second day, it’s 60 in Sochi. If it wasn’t for trucked-in snow, there’d be no winter sports in Sochi at all this winter. Ski vacations are booked months in advance. When you put your deposit on a room at Steamboat Springs or Killington you need to have confidence that there’ll be snow. Sochi seems to be hit or miss. (The region is already thought of as Russia’s best summer resort town. Hosting the winter games is actually the city’s pitch to make Sochi a year-round destination.)

I think the widespread reporting on the still-under-construction hotels and the problems with brownish-yellow water and balky toilets was damaging. That’s not what’s expected from a five-star hotel. The Russian reputation for slapped-together sub-standard construction may be a partial stereotype, but Sochi’s building problems have added fuel to the fire.

The final nail on Sochi’s coffin is the stray dogs. There are thousands of roving packs of animals in the streets; dog-catchers on Sochi are armed with lethal tranquilizer guns. That’s not what visitors expect to see on their vacation.

Sochi is not going to attract Americans, or even Europeans or the rare Middle-Easterner who likes winter sports. The world is coming to Sochi for two weeks only, and probably not after that. Russia will have a resort for Russians. We have those too: Dollywood, Sea-World, Branson. There’s still money to be made as a domestic destination. I don’t see Sochi becoming more than that. Of course, if rebels get much closer after the Olympics it may look more like the bombed-out village in Sariajhvo.

Chris Conley
2.13.14 



Image: The Olympic flame is seen after the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. Reuters / Eric Gaillard via wsau.com