Challenging years ahead for business community

Forty-eight years after the Winter Olympics were first proposed for Whistler, and with just 23 months to go before the Olympics finally come true, Olympic organizers, the community and various official agencies are still working on some important details for the 2010 Games.

Planning for 2010 has come to mean planning for the five-week period of the Olympics and Paralympics in 2010 — with the understanding that if we do it well there will be payoffs in the years to follow. But there’s going to be nine months of 2010 after the Paralympics wrap up, and almost a month and a half of 2010 prior to the Olympics getting underway.

And Whistler won’t be quite the same place following the Olympics and Paralympics. How prepared are we for the absence of big-budget construction projects in the summer of 2010 and the workers who have occupied so much rental housing in recent summers? With a boost in global awareness through the Olympics and some smart marketing, convention business and tourist numbers should pick up substantially in the years following 2010 — Sydney is the model here. But it may take some deft marketing to take the millions of impressions of Whistler generated from the winter Olympics and turn those into new visits by the summer of 2010.

The point is that the impact of the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics is going to extend well beyond the five weeks of the two Games. In the long term that impact should be very beneficial to Whistler, but the first 10 months of 2010 could be very challenging for local businesses.

Business, generally, is expected to be down in the winter of 2009-2010.   Previous Winter Olympic hosts, such as Park City, have found that even though ski areas may be open to the public before and after the Games — and in 2010 Blackcomb and part of Whistler Mountain will be open to the public during the Olympics — skier numbers are down for the entire winter.

Does that mean that business will be down for everyone in Whistler in the winter of 2009-2010? No, but it probably depends on what type of business you are talking about.

Whistler businesses have been advised to come up with a plan for 2010, and many have. For some, that plan is to hang in through the early part of the winter, shut down or go into some other business during the Olympic period, then revert back to the regular business for the tail end of the winter.

While every business plan is based on interpretations of data and educated assumptions, a lot of the fundamental information that should go into a business plan is still not available. For example, the hotels in Whistler, and by extension the village, will no doubt be full during the Games. But who are the people that will be staying in these rooms? If they are Olympic family, officials, security, media and volunteers, they may have different eating, drinking and shopping plans than if they are tourists and Olympic fans. The former probably have lots of official functions to attend and some will be given gifts and souvenirs. The latter are the people that most village businesses are currently set up to handle.


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