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Visa sees opportunity in 2010

Credit card company will ramp up promotion of Whistler, Vancouver in 2008

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As an avid skier, Scot Smythe likes to visit Whistler with his family. But as Visa’s senior vice-president in charge of Olympic sponsorship, Smythe likes Whistler for other reasons. He says the contrast between Whistler’s Olympic preparations and Torino’s are significant.

A year before Torino hosted the 2006 Winter Games there was more Olympic hype in Whistler than in Torino, Smythe said.

"I’d be up in Whistler or Vancouver and there were banners and people wearing pins, and six months out in Torino you’d see very little that was actually being done."

Smythe said Torino "was a lost opportunity," with too many empty seats and little community involvement in the Games.

That won’t be the case with Whistler and Vancouver in 2010. As official Games credit card and through fostering relationships with Tourism Whistler, Tourism Vancouver and VANOC, Visa intends to be "the preferred card of choice for most people travelling to Vancouver and Whistler well in advance of the Games," Smythe said from his Foster City, California office.

Although Visa’s promotion of the 2010 Olympics won’t get into full swing until after 2008 Bejing Olympic Summer Games, Smythe said Visa is already working hard to promote Canada around the world as a travel destination. Whether it’s placing Whistler accommodation specials in customer statements or sponsoring events, Visa is working on building awareness of Canada.

"It’s not about what takes place for us in February of 2010," Smythe said, "it’s about how we can extend that window and start to build upon our association with the Games and what we can do to support the Games."

Tourism Whistler has worked closely with Visa for years, says Oliver Flaser, Tourism Whistler’s director of marketing. By sponsoring Cornucopia, Diamond and Wines, or this weekend’s music and arts festival, Flaser says it’s a good symbiotic relationship, with Whistler garnering the transaction sector for Visa and Visa promoting Whistler around the world.

"When we were in Torino we learned that Visa activated (spent money on advertising, etc.) more than anybody else," Flaser said. "They really have created the benchmark for which Olympic sponsors should be aspiring to."

Already Visa billfolds used at many B.C. restaurants feature Ilanaaq, the inukshuk-inspired figure that is part of the Vancouver 2010 logo.

Smythe said that Visa will start to seriously ramp up sponsorship activity in 2008. "Tactically it’s smart for us. You want to make sure you’re fresh and vibrant in front of consumers at that most important time when their awareness is highest."

Visa will also sponsor the men’s under-20 soccer World Cup in Canada next year, which will be held in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

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