The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Cruise ships and condos may be best bet for beds during 2010 Games

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VANCOUVER, B.C. - Winter Olympics conjure up images of skates and skis, mukluks and mittens.

But the 2010 Games are being held in British Columbia, where winter is just as likely to involve golf as it is giant slalom, and local tourism operators are hoping to cash in on the atypical climate.

The fact that people can sail in the morning and ski in the afternoon creates unique options for Olympic spectators.

One Alberta-based company is offering golf on nearby Vancouver Island before or after the Games, along with a stay aboard a cruise ship. Stays on the Norwegian Star start at $2,010 for a four-night stay.

And with around 27,000 hotels rooms available in the Vancouver area and as many as 300,000 visitors expected for the Olympics, travellers just might need to get creative finding a place to stay in 2010.

Though there's just one year until the Games, it's still unclear how many traditional hotel rooms will be available to the public.

"We're finding out as we go, particularly as we get inside a year we'll know more," said Walt Judas, vice-president of marketing for Tourism Vancouver.

More than half of Vancouver's hotel rooms are reserved for the international and local Olympic committees, who have until March to start notifying hotels of how many rooms they'll actually need, though it's not expected that any will be released.

Some hotels put aside as much as 75 per cent of their rooms for Olympic officials and media. Athletes and team officials will not be taking up space in hotels as they will be staying at the Olympic village.

"When the Olympics are all over and there is a big bill to pay, people will think 'oh yeah, the hotels are getting a lot of money.' But we aren't," said Zack Bhatia, the vice-president of Mayfair Hotels and Resorts, which owns six hotels in the Vancouver area.

Hotels in the Vancouver area and in Whistler, B.C. were asked to lock in rates during the bid phase for the Games. Those lucky enough to secure a room through the Olympic committee are only paying about 15 per cent more than high-season.

But room rates for the public are much higher.

At a Radisson hotel near the Vancouver airport, rooms during the Olympics will be $599 per night, with a minimum stay of four nights. The regular nightly rate in February is around $150.

But over-charging could leave operators with empty rooms or worse, said Judas.

"The customer that we see in 2010, the visitor that's here for the Games is the same person we want here in 2011 and 2012 and beyond," he said.

"If they think they've been hard done by in any way, or over-charged, we're not going to see them as a repeat customer."

Prices that were already high have climbed into the stratosphere in Whistler, B.C., which will host mountain events for the Games.

Fewer journalists are expected to stay in the mountain resort and the German Olympic delegation has cancelled plans to use the village as its base.

Vancouver-area hostels are taking a different approach.

Three run by Hostelling International Canada only raised their nightly rates by $5 or $10, even though they knew they could have charged much more.

"Jacking up prices isn't really in the spirit of what we've been about and what we were created for," said Shelbey Sy, director of marketing.

Both hotels and hostels say demand increased after tickets began to be allocated last fall, but no hotels with rooms left for the public are yet sold out.

Some hotels have given over their entire stock to tour operators and travel brokers, preferring a guaranteed payout to empty rooms.

Even with a bad economy, Americans are hungry for 2010 travel packages, said Anbritt Stengele with Sports Traveller, a Chicago-based company specializing in travel to sports events.

"The Olympics is once in a lifetime," said Stengele. "People are looking to still do this trip, but at a lower cost."

Rather than secure rooms at four-or five-star hotels, the agency is working with cheaper properties combined with add-on packages, Stengele said.

Even the Burnaby Cariboo RV Park and Campground has a waiting list.

"This is our slow time," park manager Harriet Mazur said of a typical February, but not in 2010.

"We will now double the number of people who are with us."

In Salt Lake in 2002 and last summer in Beijing, people found rooms cheaper in the days before the Olympics than by booking months in advance.

To save spectators the effort of scouring dozens of sites, tourism officials have set up an online listing at www.2010destinationplanner.com.

However, no hotels in the Vancouver-area are currently listed and bookings must be made over the phone.

Listings for private apartments for rent and house swaps increase every day.

Serdar Tevar is looking to rent his fully furnished, one-bedroom apartment in downtown Vancouver for $5,000 per month in February and March 2010.

"Why not to turn this opportunity into a two-month business and make some money?" he said in a e-mail. "I am not sure if it'd work. I decided to give it a shot at least."

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