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Whistler rooms starting to fill for Olympic period

High prices, unrealistic expectations, economy still keeping some people from committing



Accommodation in Whistler during the Olympics is filling up as more and more people begin to list available rooms, condos and houses.

The official accommodation website shows suites available in The Aspens, luxury homes and condos in Montebello, just to name a few. In all there are more than 50 places listed under the Supplier 1 category.

There are also still hotel rooms left through the official ticket supplier Jet Set Sports/CoSport within their hospitality packages. Travellers within these packages stay at the Pan Pacific Whistler for three nights and can get tickets to three events including the Opening Ceremonies for $5,136.

"We have had very strong sales in all of our markets including the U.S.," said Mark Lewis, president of Jet Set Sports.

"There is a lot of demand for the Games. At this point we have sold most the tickets that are available and we are working with (the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games) and hope to get more tickets."

Lewis could not say how many of the Whistler based packages had been sold but he believed demand from both spectators and corporate sponsors was strong.

However, he added, the high cost of the resort which is priced at its peak season rates plus a premium rate, is a factor in where people are choosing to be based.

"It is expensive compared to Vancouver," said Lewis.

But he added: "It is more about building the overall schedule and the experience, so I think while it does factor into the calculation it is not the determining factor."

So far one third of tickets sold in the U.S. for the Games are to residents of Washington State.

People who have received 2010 tickets through the lottery system are now starting to snap up accommodation in Whistler said Ben Day, director of sales and operations for Tourism Whistler.

"We are getting calls every day," he said, adding that TW has kept in contact with close to 2,000 people looking for accommodation since the Games were awarded in 2003.

So far 229 bookings have been made for Games time and while that may seem small, in an average year this far out from February only about 45 reservations would have been taken.

The average stay is seven nights with the average cost per bedroom, per night ranging from $450 to $600.

According to VANOC, the International Olympic Committee has taken 35 rooms in Whistler, sponsors 351 rooms, broadcast media 1,700 rooms, the press 547 rooms, international sporting federations 184 rooms and national Olympic committees 128 rooms.

Ben Thomas of VIP Mountain Holidays believes Whistler is moving into a phase where it is all about getting down to business as usual. Part of that means walking away from unrealistic expectations, including homes, business locations and restaurants rented for huge sums of money for long periods of time.

"The next step is to talk about who is coming," he said.

"I can tell you that there is availability out there now for short term stays."

As far as bookings go Thomas has noticed two trends: travellers are having a problem committing to vacation plans in these turbulent economic times and the Olympic traveller in particular is not a big spender.

"...We are showing rates that are just above Christmas rates and we are finding that they are objecting to those," said Thomas, adding: "I don't think the rates are unreasonable."

Spectators will also come to Whistler just for the day to take in events and the Whistler Live! celebrations. In all up to 55,000 people are expected here every day.

It helps that the Olympic transportation plan is keeping the highway open at Games time, though there will be virtually no public parking in Whistler.

Whistler Blackcomb, however, is working with a parking company to access 800 to 1,000 available parking stalls which can be booked on-line for those who want to come and ski and enjoy Whistler's atmosphere during the Olympics.

"We are not just sitting back and thinking, well that is the way it is," said Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations for Whistler Blackcomb.

"We are looking for other solutions. This is very important."

Resort partners are also working on a day-skier bus system from Vancouver.

Ski passes for next season go on sale Aug. 27 and while Forseth would not reveal how Whistler Blackcomb is planning on making them attractive to buy in an Olympic year, he believes people will be excited by the deal.

"We are trying to make the message very clear that this should be a great year to come and ski because there will be fewer people overall and 90 per cent of the terrain is going to be open," said Forseth.

A ski check system will be set up by Whistler Blackcomb so that day visitors can check their equipment at the end of day and enjoy the activities in the village before heading back to the Lower Mainland at night.