By Alison Taylor
The world’s media will have some of the choicest condo accommodation in the heart of Whistler for the Olympic Games.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games confirmed this week they have secured 1,300 bedrooms of the 1,500 needed for the accredited media during the Games. The units are located in the Benchlands and Village North, in places zoned for nightly rentals, close to what is called “ground zero” for the media — the Whistler Conference Centre.
“In a very short period of time, I’m very pleased… that everybody came to the plate and said ‘let’s work together, let’s get this group resolved,’” said Nejat Sarp, VANOC’s vice president of accommodations.
The rooms will be sold at a premium. Sarp confirmed the rates would be between $250 and $350 per bedroom per night, based in part on rates this past Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Greg Martin, a managing partner of Whistler Superior Properties, said he has committed 50 rooms to VANOC for the media. He believes it’s a good deal for owners.
A three-bedroom that could rent for $900 per night during the Games would have rented for roughly $700 this past February, said Martin. That represents an increase of 28 per cent.
“One of the big things for us was the length of the stay,” said Martin.
The media rooms will be guaranteed for 26 days. Spectators, by comparison, generally stay for about five and a half nights he added.
VANOC has also agreed there will be no cancellations.
“There were so many situations in Salt Lake where people were waiting last minute to try and get top dollar and they ended up either slashing their rates or having units vacant,” said Martin.
“A bird in hand is better than not.”
That means that a three-bedroom unit at $900/night could rake in almost $25,000 over the Olympics.
The tiered rating system for the rooms has yet to be determined. VANOC will be negotiating that with the property managers in the weeks to come.
Ben Thomas, of VIP Mountain Holidays, said the rate is a good deal. It gives the owners a premium, and is still acceptable to Olympic clients.
“It’s the right rate,” said Thomas. “The key is it works for the owners and it works for the clients. So market forces are determining that that’s where the rates should be.”
Thomas also believes this will be the best rate for owners and he expects rates to come down as the Olympics draws closer.
“As soon as more supply comes on the market… the rates are going to go down,” he said.
For Sarp, who has been scrambling to find media accommodation ever since the IOC’s International Press Commission rejected plans to put the media in a cruise ship docked in Squamish, the deal is welcome relief. And it definitely beats housing the media in temporary trailers, he said, which was one of the original options.
“You’re going to have a situation where (the media) are going to be staying in some nice units where they can experience the overall feeling of Whistler, instead of staying in trailers where they could end up having a negative experience instead of a positive one,” said Sarp.
“These are the people that are going to write about the overall ambiance and atmosphere of Whistler itself as a long legacy and so, if I’m sitting as an owner, I’m thinking to myself ‘well we really showcased our community and that in itself is going to have long, long lasting opportunities for people to come and visit Whistler, just like it’s happened in Sydney.”
That’s why the Benchlands and Village North locations were a key part of the puzzle, he said.
Not only will it keep traffic off the highway, the media will be close to the broadcast and press centre at the conference centre.
They will be able to walk to their accommodation or take a free village shuttle.
The media rooms account for almost one-third of the 5,000 rooms VANOC needs for the Games. More than 4,100 rooms have been secured to date.
VANOC has existing agreements with hotels based on a rate formula, which would take the average of 2006, 2007 and 2008 February rates, and add a 15.8 per cent premium, an inflation factor and a fee for VANOC’s accommodation service.