The numbers Games

Nearly everyone’s first concern when a city or country talks about hosting the Olympics is the cost of building the facilities for the Games. Canadians who know anything of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal are especially cognizant of this.

It is to VANOC’s credit then, that the major facilities for the 2010 Games are, in Jack Poole’s mantra, on time and on budget. Moreover, it appears as though all the facilities will be completed well before February 2010, thus fulfilling another VANOC promise: to give Canadian athletes ample opportunity to train on the tracks and rinks prior to the Games and make the most of the home field advantage.

But the capital budget for the Olympics is only one set of numbers — a very important set, but hardly the only set. And some of the other numbers don’t add up, at least not yet in Whistler.

To start with, there are the accommodation figures. Everyone knew that with all the condo-hotels in Whistler it was going to be difficult to get owners to commit to making their units available during the Games. Despite the lessons of New Year’s Eve in 2000, many people assume they can wait until the last minute and get a better price. Still, VANOC’s vice president of accommodation, Najit Sarp, said last February that VANOC had secured about 90 per cent of the 5,000 rooms it needs in Whistler for the Olympics.

Those are the rooms VANOC needs for the Olympic family: the IOC members, sponsors, heads of national sports organizations, assorted dignitaries and the 1,700 accredited media. It’s not clear, for instance, if that figure includes all the security personnel who will be stationed in Whistler.

The conundrum for condo-hotel owners and managers is that no one can start selling rooms to Olympic tourists and tour operators until VANOC has the last 10 per cent of the rooms it needs locked up. And how many rooms will then be left to sell remains unknown. VANOC’s needs take up a big chunk of Whistler’s commercial accommodation. It seems likely that many people who obtain tickets to Olympic events in Whistler will be commuting to the events from Vancouver.

VANOC’s figure also doesn’t include any rooms for the hundreds(?), thousands(?) of volunteers who will be needed to make the Games work in Whistler. Apparently some of the volunteers may be sleeping in the high school gymnasium. Certainly some will have to commute from Pemberton and Squamish each day.

Then there are the seasonal Whistler employees for the winter of 2009-2010. Their first challenge will be finding a place to live in the fall of 2009. Having a signed lease for the winter is already becoming an employee’s greatest asset, but during the Olympic winter it may be a licence to freelance to the highest bidder. And companies like NBC, Visa, Samsung, GE, Bell and General Motors will be able to outbid local businesses.

The default position of not having — or at least, not knowing — the accommodation numbers is to move people in and out of Whistler on a daily basis. The important number here is one — as in one road in, one road out. It will be a much improved road but the volume of traffic on it during the Olympic period will be substantial.

Buses are supposed to be the solution. Buses for media, buses for spectators, buses for volunteers. So many buses will be needed that VANOC is apparently bringing them in from across North America. Where they will be parked when they are in Whistler is not yet known.

But the highway won’t be reserved exclusively for buses; there are also goods that will need to be moved to and from Whistler every day during the Games. Think of the number of trucks making deliveries in the village during the week of Christmas-New Year’s. Then add the buses. Then imagine the security measures that will be in place during the Olympics. That’s difficult, of course, because no one is saying anything about security.

One is also the number of gas stations currently envisioned for Whistler during the Olympics.

Last February Whistler officials said they hoped to have the accommodation figures “nailed down by 2008.” Whether that is January 2008 or closer to December 2008 is not clear, but 12 months is a pretty big window. And until people in Whistler know who’s coming in 2010, where they’re staying, and how long they’re staying (i.e., just for the day?) it is difficult for them to make plans. And that’s the number one priority for a lot of people.

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