Travel Story 

The competition for 2010

A look at Salzburg and Kitzbuhel, Vancouver-Whistler’s main rival for the Olympics

A current topic for discussion at an Internet travel writer’s forum I visit is what compels us to travel. For my part, it’s as much the chance to discover what others are thinking as it is the beauty of where they live. Perhaps the most surprising discovery during a trip to Austria in January to assess the differences and similarities between Vancouver and its contender for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Salzburg (as well as a stop in Kitzbuhel, Whistler’s counterpart in the bid war), were the echoes of concerns voiced here at home.

For example, although none of the highways that link Kitzbuhel with Salzburg proved as intimidating to drive as the Sea to Sky route, traffic at peak times was equally congested as visitors from Salzburg, as well as elsewhere in Austria, neighbouring Germany and beyond, crawled along predominantly two-lane roadways.

Traffic bottlenecks proved as much a sticking point in the minds of Austrians as on B.C.’s West Coast. But all Salzburg-Kitzbuhel residents need do is look to their Tyrolean neighbours in St. Anton, site of the 2001 World Ski Championships, for evidence of the benefits such competitions bring. In the lead-up to that event, which drew 100,000 spectators, part of the highway to St. Anton was tunnelled and twinned. In addition, railway tracks were relocated to the far side of the narrow valley – and covered! – to ensure a quieter environment for residents and visitors alike.

Not to say that public opinion among Austrians was anywhere near unanimous. As Manfred Hofer, a small business operator in Kitzbuhel, explained, "People here are split over the need to host the Games, but most of us realize we need a new impulse to attract visitors." In a country where one in five jobs is linked to snow sports, that became on oft-heard mantra.

Just as Canadians view sharing a border with the U.S. with mixed emotions, Austrians proved equally sensitive about living next to Europe’s most populous nation, especially as Germany, with over 80 million inhabitants, is the 8-million strong nation’s main trading partner. As a consequence of a prolonged recession in the German economy, cross-border trade has dropped. In 2002, the Austrian government ran a small deficit.

This downturn was mirrored in Kitzbuhel, a rural town with 8,000 permanent residents that originally proposed hosting the Games on its own. Only when that approach proved financially unfeasible did the elegant resort (where fur coats outnumber fleece by a wide margin) begin courting Salzburg, a city of 145,500 located 80 kilometres to the northeast.

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