Eurovision is beginning to loom and much of this weeks showbiz news has circulated around the re-entry of Jedward in the competiton for a second consecutive year, and the choice of the UK to enter Engelbert Humperdinck as this years representative. The old criticisms around the competition are being rehashed with many deciding that Eurovision has seen its day.
I disagree. I am a massive Eurovision van and truly enjoy the chessiness of the show but whether you love it or hate it, the impacts it can make internationally cannot be ignored. On its simplest level, if a person enjoys ‘Europop’, or ‘cheesy’ music, then the Eurovision certainly will offer a specific level of enjoyment. It is unfortunate however, that it is the lack of ‘serious’ music which is what the contest is known mainly for. A deeper analysis of the competition shows many benefits in economy, tourism and national branding which would be otherwise hard to achieve, particularly for poorer, developing countries.
As the rules go last years winner holds this year’s competition. Therefore, the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest will give centre stage to Baku, Azerbaijan. Until May of 2011, Azerbaijan was a relatively unknown country. This fact was exemplified on Facebook with many pages developed citing the night of the Eurovision Final as the date in which Azerbaijan was discovered by the rest of the world. However, its role as the 2012 host will give the country the perfect opportunity to project itself on an international, or at least a European, platform.
Azerbaijan has truly embraced the positives which are attached to the host’s. In fact, the opportunity has come at an ideal time as many major construction projects had already began to take place. One example of this is the Baku White City project which has the main aim to transform the city of Baku. Officials are positive that this project will be hurried along in order to showcase the city at its full potential. Those outside of Azerbaijan are also aware of the positive impacts Eurovision will have for the country. The New York Times‘ Ellen Barry sees it as an opportunity to make progress on human rights, while writer for The Guardian Aslan Amani, hopes that the international focus on Azerbaijan will lead to greater political openness.
It is great to see such support for both Azerbaijan and the Eurovision Song Contest. Nevertheless, there are also negative arguments for the case of Eurovision. The economic benefits of holding the contest are often used to justify the cost of holding the event. As mentioned with the case of Baku, huge investment will be made. Jobs will be created at the site of the event and local businesses will make profit due to tourism. However, these are not long-term benefits. In reality, the money bought to Azerbaijan by the 60,000 visitors they are expecting will not reach the parts of the country which need it the most. Yet, there are platforms available to build upon prolonging economic and social development.
To really reap the benefits of holding the Eurovision, Azerbaijan will need to set up a high degree of service, one which will encourage returning visitors and prospective tourists. As is estimated that the Eurovision is screened to over eighty million viewers, Azerbaijan’s potential tourist audience is opened up massively. The ‘cultural product’ which will be televised does not cost any additional price for consumers, it meets the criteria of non-rivalry competition and all everybody has equal access to the event, additional factors which will encourage people at least to view the country from their television screens.
The idea of using Eurovision to promote tourism has worked well for countries over the years. Greece is a prime example of this. Although Greece may be experiencing a dire financial situation today, after they hosted the contest, tourism saw a significant rise. In fact, Singer Sakis Rouvas who represented Greece in the 2009 Eurovision song contest is currently the ambassador for Greek Tourism.
Eurovision has also proved itself as a useful tool for nation-branding. As the competition reflects the issues of the day; it has the capacity to illuminate debates surrounding national identity, polity and protest and more importantly allows countries to portray themselves in a positive light and dampen certain stereotypes which they have encompassed over time. Russia certainly took advantage of the Eurovision finals in Moscow to dispel stereotypes, spending millions of euros to present the final on a scale that was never seen before. The Moscow final produced some of the highest viewing figures the competition has ever seen. While these actions may not have completely dispelled common stereotypes, it certainly presented Russia in a much more positive light in the weeks surrounding the final.
Eurovision is more often used as a form of nation-branding by developing countries, or if you like countries which do not already have a strong identity in the international scene. Ireland is an excellent case study here. Ireland won the competition a record of seven times during a period where they were experiencing economic hardships. While of course Eurovision was not a solution for Ireland’s economic problems, they certainly took advantage of the opportunity to illuminate their national identity.
Overall, there are many advantages to Azerbaijan in holding the Eurovision final. However, what they need to do is avoid falling into traps and use this opportunity not as a short-term benefit, but to ensure long-term benefits in economy, tourism and identity.