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Chamber readies businesses for 2010

New website to connect businesses to Games organizations
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If you’re a commercial tenant and you’ve been approached by an organization looking to book your space during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce has one piece of advice: wait.

At the end of July the chamber will launch a new website to connect local businesses with organizations and sponsors affiliated with the Games, streamlining the process and ensuring that Olympic organizers and the chamber know what’s going on.

“The idea is that the website will be a one-stop shop for all Olympic-related groups, like the Olympic family, NOCs (National Olympic Committees), and the official sponsors,” said chamber president Louise Lundy. “Those groups will be invited to the website by VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games), and will be able to go online and see all the properties and business that are listed. The businesses will provide information, photos of the property, and their contact information, and after that it will be up to the businesses and organizations to negotiate an agreement during the Games.”

According to Lundy, several businesses have already been approached by various companies and organizations looking to book space during the Games, including restaurants, bars, warehouses, and storefronts. So far she says it’s only been a handful of outside businesses and organizations that have been contacting local businesses, but she believes that will change as the Games get closer.

The concern is that companies are going to be engaged in ambush marketing, renting space beside official Olympic sponsors. “They have not paid for the privilege of participating in the Olympics, but are trying to take advantage of the Games by latching on,” explained Lundy.

The website will be password protected, ensuring that only organizations and businesses affiliated with the Games will be able to connect with participating businesses.

At the most recent chamber luncheon, Lundy asked businesses that are interested in renting their space during the Olympics and Paralympics to contact the chamber. To date more than 30 businesses have come forward, and Lundy expects that more will sign on once they are aware of the service and have started to plan their strategy for the Games.

“We want businesses to start thinking about what they might be doing during the Games, and really start to plan,” she said. “We hope that a lot of businesses will remain open, because this is a fantastic opportunity for them, but some business owners want to volunteer or might not think they have anything to offer the Games and are maybe looking to rent their space out.”

Unlike the plan to find housing for the Olympic family and sponsors, the chamber will not attempt to set rates for businesses — their only involvement is connecting businesses with potential customers through the website.

While that will reduce the potential for ambush marketing, it also has the benefit of allowing Games organizers and the chamber to track who will be staying where for the development of a master plan.

“If, God forbid, all the restaurants get booked out during the Games then we’ll need to plan alternative food venues for people coming to the resort,” said Lundy. “We need to know, working in co-operation with the business community, what their plans are. And the information goes both ways — some people have heard that there’s a lot of groups shopping around in Whistler looking for space, when in reality it’s only two or three groups talking to all the same people. I think a lot of the businesses would like to know that.”

The website will exist on Whistler.com, with links from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. Lundy says the site should be ready for July 31, and companies looking to participate or that are curious to see what the interest might be in renting their establishment can go through the chamber.

According to Lundy, the website is just one 2010 initiative that the chamber is involved in. The Whistler 2010 Business Readiness Committee is now meeting on a more formal basis, as organizations like the municipality, Tourism Whistler, chamber and local businesses are starting to devote more time and resources to planning for the Games.

The Business Readiness Committee now meets quarterly, or as needed, but will start to meet more regularly now that organizations have started to assign staff to the Games. The committee will be consulted in developing a Whistler master plan for hosting the Games, as well as to address any issues or opportunities that arise during the planning stages.

Lundy says the chamber’s Olympic website will also be updated, in part to clear up a growing number of misconceptions about the Games.

“We’re really trying to get businesses thinking about the Games, because it’s not business as usual. It’s an incredible opportunity, but you have to have a plan to take advantage of the opportunity. You have to think about staffing, hours, marketing, what you’re going to carry,” said Lundy.

“One of the frustrations we’re having is that it’s hard to develop plans when businesses don’t know the answers to a lot of questions. One business was worried that their employees wouldn’t be able to get to work, when absolutely they can get to work. The transportation plans are not fully developed yet, but that is part of the plan. Another business said they wouldn’t operate during the Games because the mountains were closed, when absolutely they’re open. One of the key messages we need to get out is that we’re open for business during the Games, but some of our businesses have not got that message.”

Lundy expects those questions to be answered in the fall when VANOC and the Resort Municipality of Whistler start communicating their plans for the Games to the community.

In addition to sharing Olympic plans and opportunities with local businesses through communication and seminars, the chamber is looking to augment its Business Ambassador program. The ambassadors will greet delegations visiting Whistler before the Games, sharing information, guiding tours and answering questions about business opportunities.

“We’ve hosted a few groups already… and we know we’re going to have all kinds of contingents coming to Whistler over the next couple of years,” said Lundy. “One of the benefits of hosting the Games is that you get groups ahead of time who want to check things out. They want to meet with the municipality, with Tourism Whistler, and with us, and it can be a lot of work. We thought it would be great to have volunteers from the business community that are interested and want to work with these groups — maybe they have a second language, maybe they just want to show off the town.”

Lundy says the chamber is putting a program together for visiting groups, assembling presentations, paperwork, and other information to share with delegations.

Lundy says the chamber’s role is to represent local businesses in the lead-up to the Games, as well as to make businesses aware of the opportunities that exist. They have already held workshops that show companies how to be involved in the Games through the 2010 Commerce Centre, merchandising, and the 2010 Business Network.

“We’ve looked at previous Games, and we know that businesses that plan ahead and have a strategy will get the most benefit from the Games,” said Lundy. “We want businesses to start thinking about that now.”




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