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Olympic spectators snapping up hotel rooms

Whistler already about 85 per cent booked for February 2010

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Spectators will not be missing from Whistler's pedestrian streets in February 2010.

Since sales began three months ago, Whistler.com has seen tourists collectively drop $1 million on accommodation during the Olympic period, said Diana Lyons. And she expects reservations to stay strong.

"Our accommodation providers are quite happy with the results they have been seeing," said Lyons, vice president of operations for Tourism Whistler. "The ones that are pricing appropriately are currently selling, and some are selling very quickly."

Whistler.com is owned by Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

Right now, the average price listed on Whistler.com for the 2010 Olympics is $600 per night.

That number is down from before, said Lyons, since Tourism Whistler received survey results indicating tourists would pay a 30 to 50 per cent premium on high season rates for Olympic accommodation, not more. As a result, Whistler.com decided not to allow partners to post accommodation on the website at exorbitant rates.

Added Maureen Douglas from the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC): "I think everyone, collectively, was concerned about spectator accommodation, but we have seen that corner get turned now, and it is really exciting to see properties realize the Games are coming and it is time to open your inventory."

In an average February, Whistler.com brings in about $3 million in revenue. And this time last year, before the recession hit, Whistler.com had sold only $75,000 of accommodation for Feb. 2009.

Now that spectators are starting to zero in on accommodation, the makeup of the 55,000 people expected to be in Whistler each night during February 2010 is becoming clearer.

People booking hotel rooms for the Games come from a similar background to Whistler's typical clientele, said Lyons, including visitors from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

On top of the healthy demand for accommodation from Olympic spectators, VANOC has booked out approximately 40 per cent of the guest bedrooms in Whistler. Other groups, like the RCMP, have booked out 25 to 30 per cent.

"As of today, VANOC has now met our contractual obligations to the IOC (International Olympic Committee), media, family and sponsors," said Douglas on Monday. The IOC family will take up just over 3,000 rooms.

Tourism Whistler currently estimates about 1,000 to 2,000 bedrooms are still available between Feb. 12 and 28, 2009, which is about 15 per cent of Whistler's total inventory.

VANOC still needs beds for workers

But one part of the Olympic accommodation makeup remains murky: where will VANOC house the hundreds of workers and volunteers it needs in Whistler during the 16-day period?

This week provided no more answers, with Douglas saying the Olympic organization is still in negotiations with different parties.

She could not clarify whether workers will be housed on cruise ships in Squamish, in the Whistler Workforce temporary housing complex, or elsewhere in the corridor.

"It is not a secret that we are definitely working in a challenging environment and need to be very responsible with our resources," said Douglas. "We continue to assess the best use of our resources, so a number of economic models are being looked at through the course of our negotiations on a number of different accommodation options."

As of February this year, VANOC needed 750 rooms for essential workers. That number has come down, said Douglas, although she could not clarify how much.

She stressed, however, the home-stay program - where families get Olympic tickets in exchange for providing free beds to volunteers and workers - is one area VANOC hopes to find extra beds.

Meanwhile, almost no Whistler residents have opened up their homes using the municipality's temporary commercial use program (TCUP).

The program was started earlier this year in part to help VANOC find more beds in Whistler for their workforce. Only two people have so far submitted TCUP applications.

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