Whistler on the right track, says mayor 

Back from Beijing, Melamed reflects on the 2008 Olympic Games

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Based on size alone, the Summer Olympics are completely different from the Winter Olympics. But Mayor Ken Melamed said his trip to Beijing last week solidified his confidence in Whistler’s preparations.

“There was not a whole lot to be learned, but it reconfirmed a lot of things,” said the mayor, who has also attended past Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, U.S.A. and Torino, Italy. “It was very valuable.”

During his short trip, from Aug. 21 to Aug. 26, Melamed visited the Beijing Olympic venues, including their athletes’ village, attended a Vancouver Organization Committee (VANOC) press conference and spoke about Whistler’s sustainable Olympic venues at a reception for the mayors of the Vancouver 2010 Games.

“The Summer Games are really a different animal, and to some degree, thank God for that. For example, there were 18,000 people in their athletes’ village, and I heard there were close to one million volunteers.” said Melamed.

He added: “We’ve tried to be practical not extravagant, and to respect the natural environment and minimize our environmental impact. I did not get a sense of that at Beijing.”

Despite these observations, Melamed said there was nothing he would criticize about the Beijing Games. He emphasized how impressed he was with the way Beijing has been dressed up for the Games. Floral displays and banners could be found on every street in the massive city.

“The size of their effort was really quite impressive,” said Melamed, whose trip was sponsored by an anonymous member from the community.

“The Chinese were so enthralled that the world was there. They were happy to be able to put on a successful Games, and there was a genuine sense of national pride.”

Whistler can take example from this palpable pride, said Melamed, even though Whistler will not be able to have the same number of decorations. The municipality has not budgeted enough money into their five-year plan to match Beijing’s decoration effort.

“That’s largely because we are a smaller town,” said Melamed.

“How well we’ll be able to deliver those nice add-ons outside of the six Live Sites, I hope we can address. There is a suspicion at municipal hall that that part will be under funded.”

The mayor also said he appreciated the number of volunteers who spoke English who were present throughout Beijing in their easily recognizable blue shirts.

“The volunteers were everywhere, and that was one of the bigger take away impressions that I left with as a visitor,” said Melamed.

“That is something for the Olympics to pursue here. We need to make sure there are enough information kiosks so random tourists and Olympic spectators alike do not need to be searching around. Obviously we already have a bit of that, but we should try and step that up.”

During his six days in Beijing, Melamed met with a number of Canadian and Chinese journalists. The number one question: What benefit does British Columbia hold for the average Chinese?

“They are interested about Chinese businesses doing business in Canada, and how deals with Chinese businesses might affect Whistler,” said Melamed.

“They also wanted to know what travel to Whistler for Chinese visitors is like.”

The mayor added that while the language barrier often limited conversations, most of the Chinese he spoke to knew about Vancouver but not Whistler. He believes this is because Whistler is still viewed by many as a winter resort and not many Chinese ski.

“This was really an opportunity to raise Whistler’s profile with the Canadian national media, as well as the Chinese media,” said Melamed.

Now that the Beijing Olympics are over, Vancouver and Whistler have entered the home stretch to the 2010 Games. The Opening Ceremony for the Winter Games takes place in less than 17 months.

The municipality is also organizing a Community Celebration for Tuesday, Sept.16 to commemorate Whistler as one of the hosts of the next Olympics. The free event also marks the Closing Ceremony of the 2008 Paralympic Games.

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