100 rooms for Germany?

Despite the price of gasoline, the carbon tax, the slowing economy, and the challenges of crossing the border and navigating construction delays on Highway 99, Americans and Canadians have continued to flock to Whistler thus far this summer. In fact, a stroll through the day skier parking lots, packed with cars and RVs bearing licence plates from across the continent, might make one wonder why anyone is worried.

But that sort of assumption ignores a few points, such as the fact $99 rooms are available right through the summer. Advertising for these discounted rooms can be seen on Seattle television stations, among other places.

Some property managers are offering cash or vouchers for gasoline, to make the trip to Whistler more appealing.

Tourism Whistler is also marketing discounted packages for people who book next winter’s vacation now.

A couple of weeks ago the Tourism Whistler board held a retreat where Peter Yesawich, an expert on American travel trends, spoke about the years ahead. The forecast was sobering enough that he has been invited back to speak to all Tourism Whistler members on July 22.

There is no doubt the tourism industry is facing a challenging year ahead. And Whistler may be facing two tough winters in a row, as previous Olympic hosts have seen numbers decline for the entire winter the Games are held.

But the Olympics, as has been stated here many times, are also an opportunity. And if Whistler’s largest foreign market, the U.S., is facing tough times it’s a good time to consider building up other markets.

Japan, Australia, Mexico, the U.K. and Germany have been Whistler’s best foreign markets. None of these countries has anywhere near the impact of the U.S. market, but they are significant players.

Germany may be the market that Whistler can best leverage the Olympics against.

The Germans want to be based in Whistler for the 2010 Olympics. German athletes are competitive in all of the Olympic events being held in the Whistler area and, aside from speed skating, are generally less likely to win medals in the events held in Vancouver. Moreover, the German public is interested in the Whistler events and Germans — at least those living in the southern portion of the country — are used to vacations in the mountains.

So it would seem an easy choice for German Sports Marketing Ltd. (DSM), which acts on behalf of the German Olympic Committee on all issues related to hosting, sponsorship, communication and marketing regarding the Olympics, to chose Whistler as its base in 2010.

But it’s not.

DSM needs at least 100 rooms, all of which must be one bedroom or studios, in four-star properties for the duration of the Games. And these rooms should be in a maximum of three hotels. DSM’s deadline to find these rooms was two weeks ago. Following some last minute negotiations the deadline has been extended to July 25.

The issue is one that was discussed here last week: getting the owners of Whistler’s strata-titled hotel rooms to commit their properties for the Olympic period. It’s not that there aren’t enough suitable rooms in Whistler, it’s that enough suitable rooms haven’t been made available.

It’s only 100 German VIPs, some might say, is it really that big a deal?

Consider that Germany is one of only two European countries — the U.K. being the other — that has scheduled direct flights to Vancouver.

As well, DSM has advised that the process of selling Olympic packages to the general public and VIPs in Germany begins when DSM determines where Germany House will be located for the Games. Dertour, the company that has the exclusive rights to sell Olympic tickets and travel within Germany, can then start securing additional rooms in that area. If DSM can find 100 rooms in Whistler and locate Germany House here, Dertour will likely need another 100 rooms for the German ticket-buying public.

Germany House will also be the base for German television broadcasting during the Games. Consider what impact daily television images from Lost Lake, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and Whistler Village might have on Whistler’s second largest European market.

Germany won’t compensate for the expected decline in American visitors, but with Whistler’s proximity to the U.S. there is every reason to believe the American market will return when the economy turns around and people get used to the new reality of the cost of travel.

But using the Olympics to boost Germany’s interest in Whistler would seem to be a simple way to broaden the market. If 100 rooms can be found in the next two weeks.

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