Editorial 

Vancouver is the competition

Less than half of Whistler’s room inventory has been contracted for February 2010 but anyone holding on to their condo and expecting to cash in nearer to the Olympics is dreaming.

And more importantly, they may be damaging Whistler’s reputation.

That was the blunt message presented at a special accommodation forum hosted by Tourism Whistler last week.

It’s not that there aren’t rooms in Whistler during the Games; it’s that the rooms aren’t available at prices sponsors, national Olympic committees (NOCs) and governments are prepared to pay. And if these organizations can’t find appropriate accommodation in Whistler during the Olympics they will stay in Vancouver.

“In Whistler, we think we’re special and different, but we’re finding we’re just like every other Olympic host community,” Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher said to the approximately 60 people who came to the Wednesday evening session. “We’re waiting and we’re missing the opportunity. We’re not different, from an Olympic perspective.”

And Whistler’s opportunity to secure sponsors and NOCs is closing rapidly. By September — October at the latest — these organizations will have finalized their budgets and made their accommodation arrangements for the 2010 Olympics.

“The groups contracting the largest number of rooms have set budgets and they have to plan ahead,” Jodi Westbury of Tourism Whistler told the audience.

Whistler has already lost some Olympic sponsors to Vancouver, corporations who have chosen to book all their accommodation in the city during the Games and commute to Whistler for specific events. February is high season in Whistler and off-season in Vancouver, so rates are lower in the city. But that distinction may be lost among Olympic sponsors and NOCs.

There is also a danger that Whistler may be perceived as gouging.

VANOC worked with Tourism Whistler and Whistler’s accommodation sector to establish a pricing formula for the Olympic period. That formula averaged the rates in February 2006, 2007 and 2008 and added a 15.8 per cent premium, an inflation factor and a fee for VANOC’s accommodation service. VANOC’s lowest contracted rate in Whistler is three times its lowest contracted rate in Vancouver.

There are organizations willing to pay VANOC’s rates, but VANOC and Tourism Whistler can’t get enough owners to commit their properties.

“The lack of available inventory is the biggest problem,” Westbury said.

She outlined “the waterfall effect” that can result from a lack of available rooms:

• NOCs may base their operations in Vancouver, which means they are unlikely to participate in Whistler’s proposed neighbourhood of nations;

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