Hoteliers in Vancouver believe exposure from the Winter Olympic Games will be a boon for business.
VANCOUVER, Canada—The Olympic Games might be played by amateurs, but the preparations surrounding the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is strictly for the professionals.
Local hospitality organizations and hoteliers have spent months and years preparing for the onslaught of winter sports fans, Olympic officials, contenders and their families and press that will descend on Vancouver this month.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Many of Vancouver’s estimated 16,000 rooms are already booked for the 18 days of games, and surrounding areas such as Whistler, where some of the games will be held, have also benefited from the push toward Vancouver.
Vancouver, British Columbia
“The month of February will definitely be an exceptional one for Vancouver,” said Carrie Russell, senior VP for HVS Global Hospitality Services based in Vancouver. “We expect to see almost 100-percent occupancy.”
Jean-Luc Barone, chair of the Hotel Association of Vancouver and GM of the Westin Bayshore, said there is a total 280,000-room block in Vancouver during the 18 days of the Olympic games. He says he doesn’t have figures for the economic impact to hotels in the region, but said it will be “significant.”
To prevent possible rate gouging, the room rates were capped in a formula that included current average rates for hotels during February and allowed for inflation. “The rate cap is a good one for the hotels,” Barone said.
The Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver is already completely booked for the 18 days surrounding the games. “I wish we could bottle the demand and use it later,” said Simon Pettigrew, GM.
The Four Seasons has prepared for the games by bringing in staff from other hotels throughout North America and hiring interns from hospitality programs. Their focus has been on training. “The eyes of the world will be on all of us for a short time,” Pettigrew said. “We have to make sure we’re on game.”
While most of the security is being handled by local and national law enforcement agencies and the Olympic Committee, some of the hotels have stepped up security as well.
One of the main challenges for the downtown hotels is the new security rules, which has limited delivery times for the past month. Hotels near the convention center have had to reschedule deliveries to accommodate security rules.
Build up for the games
Several new hotels have opened in Vancouver in time for the games, adding more than 1,300 additional rooms in the city. While the projects might have been conceived and broke ground around the same time the city knew it would be getting the games in 2003, experts believe the desire to build new hotels in Vancouver was the result of several factors, including the brand new convention center, the complete refurbishing of Highway 99—the so-called “Road to Whistler”—and the implementation of a new rail system.
“What’s been challenging is training the staff when the hotel wasn’t ready,” he said, adding they have used other facilities and even rented a bar at one point to train bartenders and wait staff.
The mixed-use residential/hotel project also has booked 20,000 room nights throughout the year. Zupanski said the new convention center sparked the need for more hotel rooms in downtown Vancouver, and he feels even after the Olympics, the market will be able to absorb the higher number of rooms.
“The new hotels certainly affects compression, but I don’t see the new hotels as dragging rates down; if anything, it should bring them up as our rates are higher,” Zupanski said.
While most hotels are near full occupancy for the games, some hotels in nearby Whistler are not even sold out during the games.
The Four Seasons Resort in Whistler is not sold out yet, according to Mark Herron, GM. However, he said that is due to a complicated arrangement by strata owners placing each unit into a revenue share.
Whistler has about 115 hotels, condominiums, bed and breakfasts, and additional hostels and campsites that can accommodate 24,000 visitors. Unlike Vancouver, which previously wasn’t known as a destination, Whistler has its own draw with world-renowned skiing.
Like others in the local Vancouver hospitality industry, Barone said he is confident the visibility the Olympics bring to the city will have a long-lasting effect.
“We have a great shot of gaining 10-20 years of visibility out of the Olympics,” he said.
Russell believes the industry will see some occupancy growth this year, but said 2011 will be a “strong” year for the city as people and businesses book meetings and events after taking notice of the city during the Olympics.
“This will drive Vancouver to a whole new level,” she said.