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Feature - Preparing for war

Travel, tourism industry already changing in anticipation of conflict



Whistler limped through a late start to the ski season in November and early December, but when the snow finally arrived the people were not far behind. Heading into February, which is traditionally one of the busiest months for the resort, local hotels are near or at capacity, restaurants have line-ups, and the village is bustling with crowds from early in the morning until late at night.

All of that activity could come screeching to a halt if the U.S. decides to go to war against Iraq, whether it’s with the approval of the United Nations or as the leader of a coalition "of the willing." Along with truth, the tourism industry is traditionally among the first casualties of a war.

Although some media experts see the massive presence of the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf as necessary to convince Iraq to surrender all remnants of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, time appears to be running out for diplomacy in the region.

As recently as last week, President George W. Bush stated that Iraq has "weeks, not months" to voluntarily disarm and is already in "material breach" of a UN resolution as far as they are concerned. Great Britain, America’s closest ally on the issue, is willing to sponsor a second UN resolution that would specifically authorize war in Iraq if it does not disarm immediately or fails to account for any missing weapons.

If any members of the UN Security Council should veto this war declaration the U.S. has made it clear that they believe Iraq as a threat to U.S. interests and allies, and is willing go to war without the support of the UN – alone, if necessary.

All indicators point to a war in late February or early March – which also happen to be two of Whistler’s busiest months.

While no one doubts that a war will hurt tourism in Whistler and B.C., nobody is sure just how much we will be affected, or for how long.

According to Peter Williams, the director of the centre for tourism and policy research at Simon Fraser University, the impact of the war on tourism will depend on the length and severity of the conflict, the effect it has on the already battered economy, and the potential long-term fallout from the conflict – the CIA is among the organizations that believes a war in Iraq will lead to an increase in global terrorism.

Although the war could be a month away, Williams says the industry is already being affected because the war is on people’s minds.

"It’s a tough forecasting environment right now," he said. "The business travel market has been hit by stock market scandals; consumers have been hit by the loss of stock market value; seniors have been hit by the loss of their retirement plans; fewer people are working or they’re worried about their jobs, and they’re wondering if they can afford to take a trip.