How Whistler is seen post-Games

As the McKeevers, the Woolstencrofts and other Canadian Paralympians win medals this week, Whistler continues to bask in the "afterglow" of a successful Olympics and Paralympics. We feel pretty good about ourselves. We believe the world understands Whistler a little bit better than it did two months ago.

But it's easy to get caught up in the euphoria of the Games experience and think that people in Toronto or Seattle or Manchester experienced the same thing by watching the Olympics on television. For all the people that were here during the Olympics and Paralympics there were millions more whose impression and understanding of Whistler has been formed through media coverage. And not just coverage of the Games.

The Schuster Group, a real estate development and investment company in Seattle, recently announced it was closing a golf course due to the economic recession. A press release from the Schuster Group stated, in part: "As evidenced by the recent bankruptcy of Whistler Resort, the recreation business, along with the collapse of the housing market, has significantly impacted revenue sources for operations and has negatively impacted our overall development operations."

We know that Whistler Resort isn't bankrupt. Neither is Whistler Blackcomb or its parent company Intrawest. But all that speculation in the media in January and February about government bailouts, foreclosures and bankruptcy, fuelled by anonymous sources in New York, leaves an impression. And the impression we in Whistler have of our town can be very different from that held by people who don't live here.

The ownership of Whistler Blackcomb, and perhaps of Intrawest, is part of a larger restructuring that's still underway in New York. It may involve business people in Vail and Japan, and the government of British Columbia could have a say in how things are resolved. Those negotiations are now taking place in the quiet "afterglow" of the Olympics. A month ago the Games were leverage, used to some success by creditors. Now the posturing is over, the parties have to sit down together and come to agreements.

Those negotiations are largely beyond Whistler's control, which is fine. No one is going to close Whistler Blackcomb; it wouldn't make sense.

What Whistler has to concentrate on is convincing people to come here. Filling hotel rooms and condos is the top priority.

There are lots of smart people working on ways to leverage the Olympics, to capitalize on the afterglow and increased awareness of Whistler to draw visitors. An interesting angle is appealing to the sense of national unity that erupted during the Olympics and seemed to surprise just about everyone.

The Historica-Dominion Institute in Toronto conducted a poll during the Olympics to try to quantify the impact of the Games on the national psyche. A majority of respondents said the 2010 Olympics were "a more defining national moment" than the 1972 Canada-Soviet hockey series, Montreal's centennial-themed Expo 67, the 1976 Montreal Summer Games or the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Andrew Cohen, author, columnist and president of the institute, said there are "very few moments" in a nation's history "that provide this kind of solidarity, this kind of unity."

It may be fleeting, this sense of unity brought about by the Olympics and Paralympics, but if Ottawa attracts visitors just because it is the national capital, shouldn't Whistler be able to do the same as one of the centres that spawned this national pride?



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