Payoff from 2010 Winter Games exposure proving elusive for commercial and residential real estate

Olympic optimism yet to be fulfilled one year after the international sporting event rolled into B.C.

Twelve months after the Winter Olympics Games ended in Vancouver and Whistler, tourism and real estate officials are still searching for a definite reading on the event’s impact.

Undoubtedly a public relations hit – with international coverage and wild, wide public participation – the bottom-line numbers, as seen in hotel occupancies and Whistler real estate prices, are still not encouraging.

Last month, U.S. travel agents voted Vancouver the best Canadian destination, but the city has won the same accolade for the eighth-straight year, so the Olympic Games are only part of the equation.

Meanwhile, Whistler Blackcomb hopes that exposure from the Games will help attract new shareholders in its initial public offering (IPO).

In a preliminary prospectus that Whistler Blackcomb used in announcing its IPO, the resort said it hopes to see the same post-Olympic boost experienced by Salt Lake City after the 2002 Winter Olympics.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, in the five-year period following the Games, skier visits in Utah rose 6.2% on average, a rate five-times faster than the North American ski industry as a whole.

Tourism Whistler surveys show global awareness of Whistler has increased substantially. Its top-of-mind awareness has jumped to 42% from 19% in Germany, 62% from 48% in Australia and 45% from 32% in the U.K.

So far the rising knowledge of Whistler has not translated into higher real estate sales or prices. According to BC Assessment, the market value of homes in Whistler is dropping, and one longtime local realtor agrees.

“The majority of homes in the Resort Municipality of Whistler are worth slightly less on this year’s assessment roll than they were on the 2010 assessment roll,” said Jason Grant, area assessor.

“Most homeowners in Whistler will see decreases in the -2% to -5% range.”

The news is not a surprise, said Whistler Real Estate’s Pat Kelly. If anything, BC Assessment’s numbers might be on the conservative side and some values may have dropped even further, he said.

“Certainly the experience we’ve had is it has not gone up,” Kelly said. “I don’t expect it to change this year.

“I would have to agree with their assessment.”

When it comes to real estate sales in Whistler as a whole from July 2009 to July 2010, the current assessment period, there has been no increase in the number of transactions from the previous year and only a small increase in overall value of total sales, Kelly said. In fact, three of the four major sectors have gone down in value, he added. However, while Lower Mainland-based Grouse Mountain Resorts and Mount Seymour Resorts and Okanagan-based Big White and Silver Star Mountain Resorts are seeing an increase in sales to date this season, none is leveraging Olympics exposure to lure new international business.

The factors helping boost sales at each resort vary, but the primary ingredient at all three is the large snowfall that is expected to blanket much of B.C. this year as a result of the la nińa weather pattern that is bringing colder temperatures to the region.

Mount Seymour sales and marketing co-ordinator Julie Mulligan wouldn’t disclose figures but said the North Shore mountain has sold more season passes this year than last year at this point.

She said the mountain is marketing to the same customer base it has in previous years: Lower Mainlanders.

The Olympics was neither a boon nor a bust for the mountain. However, Mount Seymour’s regular local traffic was supplanted by tourists during the Games.

Grouse spokesman Will Mbaho attributed the resort’s higher sales this year not only to the optimistic weather forecasts but to recent attractions added to the resort. They include:

  • a zip line that continues to draw new visitors after being installed two years ago; and
  • the Eye of the Wind turbine, which includes an elevator and observation deck, has attracted 10,000 visitors since it opened at the start of summer.

“That’s been a tremendous draw for us,” said Mbaho.

He said Grouse is only marketing locally and regionally. It hopes for, but doesn’t expect, an Olympics-related increase in traffic.

“Having a show like NBC’s Today Show here, broadcasting for the duration of the Olympics, has increased our profile, and we are probably more familiar to Americans now,” Mbaho said. “We expect our neighbours to the south will be looking for us in the winter.”

In an outlook for 2011, Tourism Vancouver sees Vancouver hotel-occupancy levels falling to the 65% to 70% range, after posting 90% occupancy during the Games. The forecast estimates that overnight visits to Vancouver from all markets will rise 3.6% this year compared with 2010, with most of the foreign visitor increase from China.

Industry analyst HVS International forecasts that 2011 revenue per available room in Vancouver will remain flat at $136, with Whistler down to $121 from a $149 average in 2010.

However, Tourism Vancouver noted that, with a record 22 citywide conventions booked for Vancouver this year, plus the Grey Cup, hotel occupancies could be higher than expected.

Western Investor ( is a division of Business In Vancouver Media Group. Published monthly, it focuses on commercial real estate in Western Canada.