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Editorial

The devil is in the Olympic details

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In just three short years, we’ll be able to start measuring the impact of the 2010 Olympics on Whistler.

Of course, that information is as helpful as economists measuring GDP and analyzing employment statistics months after the fact and then telling you that you were in the midst of a recession and should have adjusted your spending to compensate. And for such after-the-fact wisdom “experts” are paid hansom salaries.

If everyone in Whistler knew today what the Olympics were all about — all the details about who was going to be here, where those people would be staying, what they would be looking for and the impact all of them and this big event would have on our day-to-day lives — we too would be Olympic experts.

But we don’t and we’re not, at least not yet. By April of 2010 we will be.

For many, it’s been a frustrating process watching the time tick down to the Olympics and hearing that the transportation plan is still being finalized or the number of rooms available is still being worked out. Any details we can discover prior to 2010 will help us understand, prepare and make the most of the Olympic opportunity.

However, the frustration runs both ways. Olympic organizers and Tourism Whistler officials are still trying to reach condo-hotel room owners and convince them, in car-dealer parlance, that now is the time to make their best deal, if they want to earn revenue from their unit during the Games. If more owners made their units available now, rather than holding out for another Millennium New Year’s Eve let down, Olympic organizers would have more accommodation to work with, more options, and could provide all of us with better answers about who is going to be here and how things will work in 2010.

The accommodation puzzle will be an issue from now until the end of the year, at which point most of the media, sponsors and national Olympic committees will have made their decisions about whether they are going to have a presence in Whistler or be based in Vancouver during the Games. And now that the Beijing Olympics are over, little bits of the picture that show why this is important are becoming clearer.

Tourism Whistler’s director of communications, Casey Vanden Heuvel, was in Beijing with Breton Murphy and Lynn Chappell during last month’s Games to meet with Olympic sponsors, key media and take part in the IOC’s observer program.

Tourism Whistler identified Canadian, American and British media in Beijing as their top priorities in preparation for 2010, while Australian, German, Japanese and Korean media were the next tier. More than 50 contacts were made with media representatives from these countries, with one of the keys being these people received first-hand information about Whistler from Whistler people.

While VANOC, Tourism Whistler and other tourism organizations will host an international media orientation session in November, it was in Beijing that representatives from NBC and BBC found out about camera locations and background shots in Whistler that would be unique to their organizations in 2010. Vanden Heuvel will be going to New York next week to follow up with people from NBC.

There is still a chance that NBC and BBC will set up studios in Whistler during the 2010 Olympics, but accommodation is a big part of that decision.

Interest in the 2010 Olympics has also started to broaden with the close of the Beijing Games. Vanden Heuvel said an example of this was ESPN interviewing Mayor Ken Melamed in Beijing.

While the media will be the ones presenting images and reporting on Whistler in 2010, the Olympic sponsors’ decisions can lead directly to conference business after the Games. Park City, Utah, for instance, does three times as much conference business today as it did prior to co-hosting the 2002 Olympics.

Some of that conference business comes from the VIPs — now called VVIPs — that Olympic sponsors bring to the Games. Coca Cola, for instance, brought 1,600 VVIPs — major customers of Coca Cola — to Beijing, as well as 10,000 contest winners. Visa brought four-five waves of 200 VVIPs to the 2008 Olympics. The winter Games are, of course, much smaller than the summer version, so the number of VVIPs is likely to be smaller — but they are still corporate decision makers.

And Chappell said the VVIP programs during the Games generally include a tourism experience as well as Olympic experiences. (By contrast, most Olympic tourists are looking for the Games experience alone, and are not interested in the tourist/resort experience.) Visa’s present plans for 2010 are again to bring in waves of VVIPs over the 17 days of the Olympics, but they will all be based in Vancouver. Visa expects that each VVIP will spend at least one day in Whistler. Tourism Whistler’s plan is to try and extend their stay in Whistler.

Again, the accommodation situation will determine the success of Tourism Whistler’s plan.

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