Getting a city to host a Big4 pageant is no longer easy. Here's why
It was May 27, 1999 in Port of Spain. Guests from around the world were arranging their luggages trying to fit in the souvenirs they bought. While most of these guests were happy about yesterday's event, not everyone was in a high mood. Many hotel owners who were supposed to host the expected influx of guests were mostly glum. The promise that their cash registers would ring never happened. It was the day after Miss Universe 1999 and Trinidad and Tobago was in a hangover.
Trinidad and Tobago realized that hosting the Miss Universe pageant never translated into something that they expected. The raking of profits from the supposed spending spree of the expected large number of tourists never happened. Instead what the Trinis got are bills from hosting the month-long event to be paid later by millions of taxpayers money with no guarantees that it will pay back in the future. Well in fact, even with the supposed international exposure of the country never translated into a long term gain in tourism. It is true though that in 2000, visitor arrivals by air in Trinidad and Tobago went into its all high time of 398,559, but it actually slid into a 37% decline by the year 2001. The Miss Universe promise that the country will be highlighted in international tourism map remained a promise.
Fast forward to 2002. Christmas was fast approaching but for many beautiful girls gathered at a lobby of a Nigerian hotel, fear not joy pervaded in their hearts. Journalists, from CNN to BBC hovered over the Miss World delegates asking what they thought about the lastest hostilities in the city of Kaduna. A journalist, Isioma Daniel, earlier wrote:
As the idea became a reality, it also aroused dissent from many groups of people. The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring ninety-two women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them. The irony is that Algeria, an Islamic country, is one of the countries participating in the contest.
And then chaos ensued. What was supposed to be a time for Nigeria to shine and show off its tourists destinations turned into an orgy of killings in the name of religion and left hundreds of Nigerians dead. Ironically, the very idea of Isioma's article was to question the wisdom of spending public money in the name of supposed benefits in hosting Miss World. What was overlooked was the paragraph she wrote right after the most controversial one which reads:
The pragmatic wondered what the point was in spending so much money and attention on something as cursory as a beauty pageant when there are bad roads, collapsing businesses, galaxy-wide unemployment, power shortages and poverty, which are not being given half as much commitment as a beauty pageant.
Looks like we can host Miss World too
Having in mind the case of Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago, pitching for the idea that hosting Miss Universe or Miss World could result into tangible benefits is getting difficult nowadays. No wonder Miss International and Miss Earth are content with their home countries. Even Miss Earth failed to pursue its plans in Chile. Telling a city or a nation that hosting a Big4 pageant is good is now a tough thing to sell. No wonder that the end of the year is fast approaching but no official announcement was made as to which country will host Miss Universe 2012.
Equating a pageant into tourism benefits and international exposure is so 1970s. It was true back then. That's because it was considered by majority of people then as a major event. These days, a city can have more exposure hosting American Idol than Miss Universe. The other Big4 pageants are struggling for media mileage. Miss World is not even broadcasted by a major British TV. Miss Earth is broadcasted late internationally and Miss International is only beamed locally.
Interestingly, many nations were lured into hosting the event after a victory in the pageant. For example, Trinidad and Tobago was inspired by the victory of Wendy Fitzwilliam in 1998 and Nigeria with the triumph of Agbani Darego in 2001. Chile flirted the idea of hosting the Miss Earth pageant after Hil Hernandez' was crowned. Even Asia's first hosting of Miss Universe was ushered into reality by the victory of Margarita Moran.
Beauty pageant organizers of course realized this. Well in fact it was suggested by beauty observers that the interest of communist China with Miss World started with two semifinals finish of the country rep at the pageant in 2001 and 2002. These observers see the same trend of having Indonesia making it to the semifinals in 2011 and 2012 (amazingly both made it through the highly subjective Beauty with a Purpose criterion) and then Bali agreed to host the pageant in 2013. Vietnam had its first semifinalists at Miss Universe thanks to hosting the 2008 edition. These can be called as "semifinalist for hosting" swap deal!
The current tough economic climate and changing attitude of the general public towards pageants make things more difficult that even the "semifinalist for hosting" deal looks unattractive. How about "a crown for hosting" deal? Anyway, Miss Universe and Miss World took the initiative of having a back-up plan. If all things fail, Miss Universe goes to Las Vegas (and Biloxi they say this year) while Miss World goes to London. Even Miss International can't find any other city other than those in Japan or in China.
Thus, gone were the days when Miss Universe 1994 closed with a panoramic image of Namibia with a voiceover announcing that the next host city will be Windhoek. The costs involved in hosting a major beauty pageant as it seems can't pass the cost-benefit ratio tolerance of many countries. Like hosting the Olympics, the prestige and honor may be there but they need cash.