After months of hanging out No Vacancy signs for the 16 days of next month’s Winter Olympics, inn-keepers in Calgary and nearby Banff suddenly have found themselves with rooms to let. Just six weeks before the Games begin on Feb. 13, Calgary-area hotels are registering more than 500 room cancellations. The reason: corporate sponsors of the Games’ 59 competing nations’ Olympic committees and the Olympic organizing committee, known as OCO, have not attracted the number of guests they expected. Indeed, OCO itself pared its 15,000 reservations by more than 300. Said Ivor Petrak, a vice-president of CP Hotels Ltd. and general manager of the 840-room Banff Springs Hotel and the 500-room Château Lake Louise: “There will be more beds than needed. The interest in the Games is generally small. Even the sponsors are having difficulty filling up their rooms.”
Indeed, Visa International, a major sponsor as the official credit card of the Games, last month cancelled 80 of its 200 rooms booked at the Banff Springs Hotel after its officials learned that many invited guests had decided that they were either not interested in attending the Games or would prefer to stay in Calgary. Said Joseph Jansen, general manager of Banff Central Reservations: “When the deadline for full payment on the rooms arrived on Dec. 1, sponsors and OCO had to decide exactly how many rooms they wanted to pay for.” The deadlines were extended, but, added Petrak, “OCO did an excellent job on Olympic facilities but a poor job on promoting visitors.”
Banff would seem to be an attractive site to Olympic visitors. Nestled in the Rockies, 128 km west of Calgary, the national park resort is only 66 km from the Games’ alpine skiing venue at Mount Allan in the Kananaskis range and 31 km from the cross-country skiing and biathlon venues at the Canmore Nordic Centre. But at week’s end, at least 300 Banff-area hotel rooms were available for the
Games. Said Banff and Lake Louise Chamber of Commerce manager Paul Royall: “Six months ago most hotels would have been sold out. But companies and OCO block-booked. They overdid it.”
Still, as the pressure on hotel space eased, OCO’s concerns over massive pressure on the Games’ transportation systems mounted. As many as 100,000 ticket holders in a single day could be
trying to get from their hotels to the eight Olympic venues scattered about the city and in the mountains at Canmore and Kananaskis Country. Last week officials of the City of Calgary issued an appeal in hopes of preventing traffic jams on the Trans-Canada Highway linking the city to the two mountain venues. Said Dennis Danchuk, co-ordinator of the city’s Olympic Transport Group: “We are urging people to form car pools, to leave for the venues at least three hours before events start and to use alternative routes.”
To encourage car pooling from the first day, when 65,000 people will converge on Calgary’s McMahon Stadium for the opening ceremonies and throughout the entire Games, vehicles transporting two or more ticket holders will be able to park free at Canada Olympic Park. In addition, city transit will be free to all Games ticket holders.
Return bus fare from Calgary to the mountain venues will be $15. Still, warns Danchuk, “if people head out an hour before the scheduled start times, they’ll never make it.”
Yet, last month OCO launched a ticket sales campaign that, if successful, will add to the traffic problems. More than 400,000 tickets—primarily for such outdoor events as cross-country skiing, luge and bobsleigh—have still
not been sold. The Olympic committee’s campaign—which is aimed at the other Prairie provinces and the drivein market in Alberta communities outside Calgary—includes a telephone order desk, replacing the written order forms, and ticket information brochures, which were delivered to 220,000 Edmonton households between Christmas and New Year’s. Ticket sales have been unexpectedly slow in the provincial capital but are picking up as the Games draw closer.
Still, with more than 1.2 million tickets worth $37 million already sold, unprecedented crowds for the Calgary Games are guaranteed. It is now apparent that the expected 82,000 Olympic visitors will have places to spend their nights—once the struggle of going and coming is over.
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