High security G8 foreign ministers conference was problem free 

But some local business owners are concerned these types of conferences will be bad for business

The success (after the first day) of the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Whistler may mean more high security conferences held here in the future.

While the municipality has no control over who books hotels for what conferences it is reassuring, said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, that high profile meetings can be held successfully.

"I am extremely satisfied," he said while visiting the location of the G8 foreign ministers meeting, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

The ministers of the seven most powerful economies in the world and Russia are meeting to discuss several high profile items in advance of the full G8 Summit in Kananaskis at the end of June.

O’Reilly was pleased most of the resort had been untouched by the massive security presence needed to securely host the conference.

Several high profile ministers attended, including US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The host nation has an obligation to provide security for the visiting dignitaries.

In Whistler several hundred RCMP and special tactical units were in place. Perhaps 75 peaceful protesters showed up Wednesday. There were no serious confrontations.

In Kananaskis up to 5,000-army personnel will join police forces to provide security for the full G8 Summit, where up to 1,000 protesters are expected.

"They had to put in precautionary measures, and a fence, and secure the area," said O’Reilly.

"But the guests are able to come and go. There a number of guests who are independent and they have had no trouble."

O’Reilly and others are watching the meeting closely as it may influence the municipality’s decision to host the World Economic Forum here in 2004.

Several months ago up to 1,300 citizens signed a petition against holding the WEF in Whistler.

Whistler said it would consider holding the WEF here if other meetings were peaceful and if, among other things, the date was moved from February to the shoulder seasons.

"This is one event and we are comparing this with what happened at Banff (where the G8 environment ministers met), said O’Reilly.

"Again theirs was very similar in the number of protesters.

"We will be watching at Kananaskis, which again is higher profile and a larger number of protesters is expected, so we will watch how that goes.

"We don’t see many events like this in our community... so if they run smoothly it is great."

O’Reilly also pointed out that the resort has co control over conferences such as the G8 booking hotels here.

"There is a suggestion that we have some sort of ability to control this," he said.

"We don’t. This group came they booked it just like any other group or convention. We were not consulted and when people come we are going to host them as best we can. It is not a question of if we are inviting or not inviting them."

But local Troy Assaly who has an accommodation business believes this is the wrong type of business to encourage in Whistler.

"I don’t think it fits with the image Whistler has been trying to create," he said.

"I think it scares potential recreational people away from here."

Assaly is also worried about what kind of message was being sent around the world by the over 250 media here covering the G8 conference.

"The news coverage that is going out all over the world about this G8 pre-conference is all focused on potential terrorist attacks and potential protests and that is not the type of information that encourages people to come here on their spring vacation next year," he said.

While the security measures did not interfere with Assaly’s daily routine he said he was bothered by the constant noise from surveillance helicopters and felt tourists would be adversely affected by this experience.

He is hopeful that when the municipality comes to review hosting high security conferences, such as the WEF, it takes more than just protests into consideration.

"I hope the research process to decide if it is good or bad or a successful or a failure involves more that just if there was any rioting in the streets," he said.

"The only way to really evaluate whether there has been any impact or not from this event is to see how our business is next June.

"The bottom line in this whole thing is that Whistler is really coming into its own and really just becoming recognized world-wide as a recreational resort.

"What all this extra business, high security Olympic-style, business is doing is potentially ruining the whole thing."


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