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Tourism Beyond the Winter Olympics

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The increase in tourism has been rapidly increasing in Whistler for many years. Noted for being one of the best skiing and snowboarding areas in the world, having the largest skiing area in North America as well has having summer activities to match the winter, including world class golfing, mountain biking and hiking, thanks to the abundance of mountains warmed by the sea air in the summer making it an outdoor enthusiasts dream.

Up until a couple of years ago, the increase in tourism had been fast but steady and controlled. Since the decision for Whistler to host the winter Olympics in 2010 things have changed.

The recent unprecedented level of resort development comes with some urgency, as most developers want to take advantage of the attention the 2010 Winter Olympics will bring to the area. Despite skyrocketing construction costs, developers are feeling confident. The Government of Whistler has challenged the tourism industry to double in size by 2015 and interest in recreational real estate is so high that many projects are sold out before construction even begins.

With a strong economy and the boost in global awareness that the Olympics will bring, the future of tourism in B.C over the next few years looks healthy. The questions arise when long term growth comes into question. Firstly the capacity – will enough people come to Whistler to fill the beds?

Much of North America considers Whistler a difficult place to get too, and with impending tourism increase means possible problems with traffic, demand in air travel and traffic problems around B.C., which may put people off going there. Another potential problem is that most resort development is predicated on the sale of recreational real estate, whether its condo units, time share units, cabins or real estate lots. For a lot of people their considerable investment in recreational real estate means they are going to spend their vacation time using the property. They are less likely to be traveling around the province and sampling the various resorts being developed.

With increasing costs in Whistler and BC, Canadians may be put off the idea of visiting Whistler, instead choosing holidays abroad or to other destinations away from the spotlight that Whistler has fallen under.

These are not potentially catastrophic problems for the area but illustrate a need for long term planning and thought into the development of Whistler, and how to maintain momentum once the Olympics is over.

Poor planning has often led to post-Olympic areas being turned into ghost towns, with unused facilities, empty housing etc. however, with limited space in Whistler, careful thought has led to large areas of the Olympic village being turned into housing after the event, the majority of which for employees of the event. This will limit the possibility of unscrupulous developers ruining the area trying to cash in and potentially destroying the beauty of Whistler.

Despite the doubts and the potential for problems beyond the Olympics, the area looks set to continue with impressive growth in tourism, with 88 major tourism related development projects already underway, worth a combined 17 billion CAD.

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