While Beijing may have officially passed the Summer Games torch to London, England, the attention of the worldwide media and Olympic sponsors will be directed a little further west to Vancouver and Whistler.
Tourism Whistler has been working with partners at Tourism Vancouver, Tourism B.C. and the Canadian Tourism Commission to market the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games and work with international media over the next 18 months.
Arlene Schieven, vice president of marketing for Tourism Whistler, represented the resort in the 2010 Tourism Consortium and says that Whistler can expect a lot of international attention after Beijing.
“The biggest change for us after Beijing is working with broadcasters and the media,” she said. “Everyone there has already told us they will soon be turning their full attention to Whistler and Vancouver, which is when we can really start to capitalize on the opportunity.”
There are 11 different strategies in the plan put together by the consortium, says Schieven, many of which will be announced in the coming weeks and months. A wider launch is expected that will include provincial and federal governments, and that will spell out some of the details of the different strategies.
One example is a kiosk program for Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler that would have the same appearance and would work co-operatively to promote the Games. Tourism B.C. will fund the kiosks, but will also look for sponsorship to help cover costs.
Another example is the launch of a new website, www.destinationbc.ca that will tell the story of Canada, Vancouver and Whistler to foreign journalists. By collaborating on the website, the consortium eliminates the need for each member to tell the story themselves, while ensuring the message and presentation is consistent.
A world press briefing for print media will also be held in November to introduce journalists to Whistler, and members of the press will be encouraged to stay longer and experience the resort. That event alone is expected to generate a lot of media coverage of Vancouver and Whistler, the Olympic venues, and other public interest stories related to the Games.
“The planning is fairly detailed in terms of what tourism bodies can control. Things are underway within VANOC that will determine the look of the Games inside the fences, but our job is more to maximize the tourism opportunity around everything that’s happening,” said Schieven. “For example, the sports events and World Cups that are taking place before the Games will attract a lot of media, and we can leverage that for tourism gains.
“There’s also a myth out there that people tend to stay away from Olympic destinations before a Games because they think they’re under construction, but we want to let people know that everything is done, all of our venues are now complete, and open to the public.”
Tourism Whistler also sent two representatives to Beijing to meet media organizations, get a sense of what media will be looking for in Whistler, and to learn from the example set by the Beijing Olympic Committee. Another Tourism Whistler representative has been meeting with Olympic sponsors, and taking note of the ways they promoted themselves during the Games.
Typically host cities are not allowed to advertise their status until after the previous summer or winter Games, but the Vancouver Organizing Committee lobbied for and won the right to start promoting the Games after Torino in 2006. Some examples include the highway signs indicating where 2010 venues are located, the 2010 visitor centre in the village, annual festivals to count down the years left until the Games, and promotional materials.
Michele Comeau Thompson, manager of communications for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said even more will be done after Beijing to promote the Games within Whistler, on official websites, in advertisements, and in brochures and other materials.
“I know some of the things that the tourism consortium is working on are aligned with the timing of the Beijing Games to start promoting Vancouver and Whistler as destinations, and to focus on the media and international media, to be able to tell our story to that group,” she said.
Whistler and Vancouver will be in the international media a lot in the coming months, she says, including the sale of tickets to Games events that begins on Oct. 3, and the fact that Whistler and Vancouver are hosting 10 World Cup events this winter in Nordic combined, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh and luge, skeleton, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, and speed skating. Four Paralympic test events will also be held — sledge hockey, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and wheelchair curling — as well as international competitions in figure skating, hockey and curling.
Each of those events will draw media to the Games says Jim Godfrey, executive director for the 2010 Games in Whistler.
“Certainly the limelight is turning to us at this point in time, as we start gaining the media exposure that we’ve been talking about for some time now that will allow us to capitalize on the opportunity of the Games,” he said. “There’s a larger strategic framework that’s coming together, but one of our objectives from the start has been to capitalize on the tourism opportunities.
“One thing that is also quite beneficial for us is the fact that we’ve managed to incorporate the Whistler name at all of the venues — the Whistler Sliding Centre, the Whistler Olympic Park, Whistler Creekside — so when we have our eight World Cups here this year we can be sure the name will come up on all those occasions.”
Some of the Olympic sponsors, like Visa, are also increasing their visibility in Whistler in the build-up to 2010, providing retailers with signs, stickers, billfolds and other items that draw attention to the Games.
As well, roughly 50 local retailers are approved to sell Games merchandise before, during and after the Games, which will improve recognition among visitors that the Olympics and Paralympics are coming.
“Every other store in the village that visitors go into will have that immediate recognition that the Games are taking place,” said Godgrey.
The International Olympic Committee is strict about how its logo and trademarks can be used, and by whom, but Godfrey says there are other opportunities for local businesses to draw attention to the Games. One idea is to create a program similar to the “I’m backing the bid” stickers that were placed in stores in the run-up to the IOC’s selection of Vancouver in 2003.
The actual look of the Games will not be revealed until late 2009, but Whistler’s promotion of the Games will be consistent with Vancouver and other partners. In the meantime Godfrey says the Whistler Chamber of Commerce is working on a store window dressing program showcasing different sports or aspects of the Games.
“It would be similar to what they did in Torino in 2006, which really showed the level of support for the Games in that community,” said Godfrey. “We want that Olympic atmosphere in Whistler, and to start building the excitement.”
Other ideas being explored include creating a media centre for accredited visiting journalists before the Games, and possibly a centre for unaccredited media during the Olympics and Paralympics. That would allow publications that don’t qualify for official authorization, such as weeklies and local radio stations, to cover the events and other stories around Whistler.
Other Games-related initiatives underway include various arts and culture programs, and a project by the Whistler Museum and Archives that will show Whistler’s history with the Olympic Games, and the unsuccessful bids for the Games that preceded 2010.
Through the summer, VANOC also offered tours of the 2010 facilities, including Whistler Olympic Park and the Whistler Sliding Centre. Whistler Olympic Park was open to the public for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing this past winter, using tents and temporarily trailers until the buildings were opened.