The cancellation of matches during the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan is causing a headache for tour operators and rugby supporters alike while raising questions about the suitability of hosting an international sporting event in a country at risk of severe weather conditions.
Observers are calling this the worst typhoon to hit Japan in decades with the death toll currently at 74, although a search for the missing continues.
For the World Cup, it is estimated that the typhoon-hit event, set to attract 400,000 visitors in total, will cost more than US$25m in ticket refunds alone.
Besides the cost of tickets, these cancellations can be expensive for those who travel to support their teams and tour operators will have to negotiate with the organisers to agree on an acceptable compensation.
Any organiser of top sporting events and the host nation must consider challenging climate hazards if they are to avoid a financial loss for the parties involved, including tourism professionals. Not to mention the potential to loss of life and livelihood which such events pose in themselves.
Typhoon Hagibis has forced the cancellation of three low-stakes Rugby World Cup matches, two of which included high-profile teams.
International tourists who used a tour operator may be able to seek compensation once issues of liability are settled with World Rugby, the event organisers. This will determine the amount that can be refunded to tour operators and, ultimately, to disappointed visitors.
However, those who decided to travel independently might struggle to get more than their match tickets refunded.
These cancellations have the potential to impact negatively on the image of the tour operators involved as they are at risk of being blamed for any insufficient refund, regardless of their actual responsibility.
Japanese tourism may also suffer from the fallout of spoilt matches, but with the remainder of the competition still to run, may improve their image if their welcome of disillusioned fans makes up for the cancelled games.
It’s not the first time the weather has interfered with a major sporting event this year. World Rugby may be to blame for the lack of organisation displayed, as a contingency plan should have been in place. Indeed, October is known as the typhoon season in Japan.
This situation is reminiscent of the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Qatar (27 September to 8 October), where athletes suffered from the characteristically high temperatures of the Persian Gulf while competing in a nearly empty stadium.
The lessons from Japan and Qatar are that organisers should put the health of athletes and supporters before economic considerations and place major events at locations where the weather conditions are safe, or they might struggle to attract visitors.
All eyes will be on the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar (21 November to 18 December), which is expected to have a decisive impact on the future of the country’s tourism.