Opinion » Editorial


Learning from the Games



And now it's almost over.

So what do we have to show for seven years - or 50 years, depending on where you measure from - of anticipation and preparation, and 17 days of competition and parties?

With the acknowledgement that something went horribly, horribly wrong the day that the 2010 Olympics officially began and that there are still four days left, we can say that a lot of things have gone well during these Games. Particularly in Whistler.

It took a massive organizational effort and a commitment from everyone in Whistler, including those doing business in Whistler, but transportation has hardly been an issue during the Olympics. There were frustrations when B.C. Transit quadrupled the local bus fleet and didn't provide enough training for the new drivers. Bus riders frequently had to give drivers directions for the first week or so but as with most other transit issues during the Games, people learned, made adjustments and the situation improved.

There have been issues with people waiting for Olympic buses, particularly when returning from Whistler Olympic Park. This too improved as the Games went on.

The key to the transportation issue, however, has been people's willingness to leave their cars at home and follow the rules set by Olympic organizers. This hasn't been easy for all. The lack of parking has meant thousands of regular visitors have stayed away from Whistler during the Games. And for some residents the lack of parking has been a huge inconvenience.

But as a temporary measure in extraordinary circumstances it's worked. Whether there's the desired holdover effect - people leaving their cars behind and taking the bus more often - remains to be seen.

Commercial deliveries have also worked. Middle-of-the-night deliveries are the norm in places like Manhattan and London where daytime traffic is prohibitive. That's not generally the case in Whistler; commercial deliveries are expected to go back to normal next month. But again, we've shown that we can adapt and change if we need to.

The last piece of the Whistler transportation puzzle has been such a non-issue that we hesitate to raise it before the Olympics are over. It may be tempting fate to say it but the Sea to Sky Highway has only been referred to in positive ways. That could all change in a moment's inattention or a heavy snowfall, but the highway should be remembered for all the right reasons by the thousands who travelled it during the Olympics.

The atmosphere in the village has been perhaps the biggest revelation of the Games. We've learned that thousands of people streaming through the village day and night doesn't have to be wild or scary. Sure it helps when there is a $900 million security budget but it isn't the police presence that's keeping people from causing trouble. People have come to the village to celebrate. The Olympics, whose many faults have been well documented, are the reason people are celebrating.

And that extra half-hour opening for bars, clubs and restaurants hasn't signaled the decline of civilization.

New standards have been set for "fun" and "busy" in Whistler. The community is not going to hold the Olympics again, at least not for a long time, but the Olympics have shown what crowds and crowd behaviour can be - and that sets the bar for the many other events Whistler hosts annually.

We've also learned that filling the village with people doesn't necessarily mean business for everyone. The Olympic crowd is unique - for many people this may be the only time they will ever see the Olympics in person; they are here to enjoy the experience of the Olympics, not necessarily the experience of Whistler.

Given enough time most businesses would figure out how to cater to the needs and interests of thousands of Olympic visitors. But from a business-opportunity perspective the Games are a 17-day, once-only event - preceded by a dearth of customers. Everyone had to make assumptions and best guesses before they started. Some businesses guessed right; some businesses weren't in a position to capitalize.

What it shows once again is that the issue is more than just getting people to Whistler, but knowing who's in Whistler and what they want.

These aren't the only lessons learned from the Games but as Whistler sets its goals for the post-Olympic period they are things we can build on and count as part of the Olympic legacy.