Opinion » Editorial


Whistler needs own plan for Olympics


We all want guarantees, whether its on investments, access to health care, or ski and snowboard equipment. But the fact is there aren’t many guarantees in life. The best most of us can hope for are opportunities.

The Olympic bid, which is still alive and probably stronger than ever thanks to the Yes-side’s victory in last weekend’s Vancouver plebiscite, is a huge opportunity for British Columbia. But there aren’t many guarantees, even if the Games are awarded to Vancouver and Whistler.

The perception is that Whistler will reap a huge windfall of rewards for co-hosting the Olympics in 2010 – which it will – and on balance the positives outweigh the negatives. But there are lots of obstacles to overcome. Winning the right to host the Games is just the beginning of the work to make the most of this opportunity.

The resort side of Whistler stands to benefit in the long term if the Olympics are held here, but the community side of Whistler – including the local business community – will have to prepare for the constraints that come with the Games. Some of those constraints are now becoming clearer:

• upgrades to Highway 99 will take place over the next six years, meaning road closures and delays on the primary access to Whistler;

• during the Olympics travel between Whistler and Vancouver and within Whistler will be restricted;

• during an Olympic year, and often in the year prior to hosting the Olympics, tourist numbers are down for a host community;

• some landlords and service providers see the Olympics as a sign that everyone has money and they hike their rents and rates in order to cash in on the windfall.

In the early days of the Whistler Village and the town’s foray into the world of international resorts there weren’t a lot of believers. Most people saw huge risks; a few saw opportunities.

The recession in 1983 made things more difficult, but the early investors got through it with an understanding that they were all in it together. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

That sort of understanding is necessary again if the Olympics are awarded to Vancouver and Whistler in 2010. Rather than individuals trying to cash in during a two-week event a long-term, a collective approach is needed. Whether it’s commercial landlords in the village, property owners renting to tourists or service providers, all are representing "Whistler" when they do business and any attempts to gouge customers will reflect on the whole town.

People from Salt Lake City and Park City have described how gouging did not work during the 2002 Games. Many property owners here will recall the frenzy of speculation leading up to New Year’s Eve in 1999-2000, and how so many people just stayed home rather than pay ridiculous prices.

But businesses will face difficulties prior to 2010, as outlined above. Any additional tax or regulatory burdens will add to the burden.

On top of this, Whistler-Blackcomb will be compensated for any decrease in business during the Olympics, while other businesses in Whistler won’t. They will have to devise their own plan, again keeping in mind that the Olympics provide opportunities as well as limitations.

It’s not too soon to begin working on a collective approach to this planning.

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