Getting Team Canada to Tokyo 2020 during COVID-19: A behind the scenes look at how COC Hospitality and Travel Partner ATPI navigated the pandemic
To say that the lead up to Tokyo 2020 was a logistical challenge the likes of which had never been seen before by the Canadian sport system would be a massive understatement for ATPI, Team Canada’s Authorized Ticket Reseller (ATR), Travel Services and Hospitality Provider.
“It was like we were preparing for five different Olympics at the same time. We had no idea what Tokyo 2020 was eventually going to look like. We had to be ready for everything,” says Kevin Perrin, Head of Commercial and Sports Relations at ATPI Sports Events.
Perrin says he vividly remembers the Sunday in March 2020 when the Canadian Olympic Committee informed him that they were about to announce they would not be sending a team to the Summer Games – the first National Olympic Committee to do so, putting athlete and public health first. That set off a chain reaction for ATPI.
Pre-COVID, he says, Tokyo 2020 was shaping up to be a record for Canada.
“Everyone wanted to go. We hadn’t seen these kinds of numbers and interest in the past.”
Suddenly there was all this uncertainty.
“You can only imagine how many different scenarios we began working through at that time.”
Those included if the Games would take place in 2021 in the usual way before COVID hit, if they would take place in 2021 without spectators, or if they would be canceled altogether.
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially announced the Games would not take place in 2020 and set new dates for the summer of 2021, ATPI immediately communicated with all their different stakeholders which include the COC, National Sport Organizations, the COC’s Marketing Partners, who had committed to programs to bring clients or their executive teams to the Games, as well as the general public in Canada.
“When that ultimate decision to postpone the Games was rendered, we reassured our stakeholders the next day saying, ‘we’ve got your back’. We have put in the official requests to all the different suppliers to regain or get your money back to be able to refund you 100 per cent’.”
That involved a complicated renegotiation and extension of contracts for hotels – with special clauses added in case the Games did not happen or occurred without spectators.
Tickets were another challenge with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee providing five different windows and deadlines with quick turnarounds for refunds.
“That created a lot of stress and strain on every stakeholder including National Sport Organizations,” Perrin says.
He adds, some fans had purchased packages which included tickets, airfare, hotel, ground transportation, and pre-paid food.
“There were cases where we decided to refund even before getting our money back,” explains Perrin. “One family had purchased $30,000 packages and with COVID-19 had lost their employment and were in a dire situation.”
In April 2021, the IOC announced the Games would go ahead but without spectators. ATPI’s work behind the scenes helped ensure Canadians were refunded 100 per cent for all event tickets, something that did not occur in some other countries.
When the Tokyo Games finally took place , ATPI assisted Team Canada with the unique COVID-19 requirements that saw athletes and team officials flying in only seven days before their events and flying out two days after they finished competing.
In one case, ATPI worked together with Air Canada to delay a flight for a few minutes when an athlete had to wait for the results of a PCR test.
“The evening before one of Team Canada’s top athletes had to fly out and we received a call less than 24 hours before their flight. The athlete was having some back problems and wondering if it’s possible to get into premium economy to help for the 13 hour flight,” recalls Perrin. “We worked with Air Canada through the night and found a solution. I can’t say more because it’ll give it away, but the athlete did extremely well. Their mother even wrote to us thanking us and said that we had a small but direct role in their success in Tokyo. Yes that’s just one seat for one athlete, and ATPI did upwards of 5,000 flights for Tokyo alone, but really it’s just an amazing part of the job to be able to help Team Canada’s athletes and all our customers in whatever way we can.”
Such efforts did not go unnoticed as part of how the COC delivered on Tokyo 2020.
“ATPI is an incredible partner. The past two years of COVID-19 caused much uncertainty and we knew we could always count on them,” Jacquie Ryan, Chief Brand and Commercial Officer of the COC and CEO of the Canadian Olympic Foundation, says. “During Games periods they are truly a part of Team Canada, helping our logistics team manage the incredibly complex task of getting all members of Team Canada and many of their supporters around the world and back safely. Regarding Tokyo of course, ATPI’s efforts to get Canadians full refunds was tireless and something that truly sets them apart.”
For Perrin and the team at ATPI there wasn’t much time for a break after Tokyo with Beijing less than six months away and the pandemic showing no signs of ending.
“We pivoted to Beijing before Tokyo was even over,” explains Perrin. “These Games present a whole other set of challenges, but working together with the crew at Team Canada, we’ll always find a solution.”