Accommodating the Games

For most of Whistler, there is and always has been one basic question about the period of the Olympics that has never been adequately answered: Who is going to be here?

It seems like the simplest question, but the answer has been elusive. And 14 months before the Games begin the answer is still vague.

VANOC, of course, is central to the issue. The organizing committee plays a key role in determining who stays in Whistler during the Olympics. However, some of the groups coming in 2010 — some media, national Olympic committees, corporate sponsors — can stay in Vancouver just as easily, and less expensively, than in Whistler. Where they decide to stay doesn’t matter too much to VANOC.

But it’s important to Whistler, to the retailers, restaurateurs, hoteliers — the people in the valley who form the basis of most people’s Whistler experience. It’s important for schools and for residents trying to decide whether they will stay for the Games or leave town. It’s important for any business trying to develop a plan for the Olympics.

The municipality’s estimate of how many people will be in the valley in February 2010, including friends and family of residents, is fluid. It will be updated next month.

VANOC said this week that accommodating and transporting workers and volunteers in the corridor is “complex” and is still an area of concern.

Last month VANOC’s vice president of accommodation and services, Jacqui Murdoch, said the organization is still 411 rooms short of what it needs for media in Whistler. All media accommodation must be secured by February, although some media organizations have already decided to base their operations in Vancouver, rather than Whistler.

“It seems like every week or two we hear about a group which has decided to have their main base down in Vancouver instead of Whistler when their absolute first choice would have been… Whistler,” the RMOW’s Michele Comeau Thompson said last month. “They are being forced to make that decision to be in Vancouver and Whistler becomes the satellite.”

Murdoch sounded exasperated by the situation in Whistler.

“…Out of 10,000 bedrooms (in Whistler) we have only secured 3,000, so where are the rest?”

The problem, if anyone didn’t know, is that most hotel accommodation in Whistler is strata-titled. That is, each room is privately owned. Owners generally don’t have to commit their room to the rental pool more than 12 months in advance. Media organizations, national Olympic committees, corporate sponsors and others have to make their Olympic plans more than 12 months in advance.

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