By Allison Milton/The AS Review

February 12 marks the beginning of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia and also marks what will could be a boost in the economy for the city of Bellingham. Located approximately 54 miles south of Vancouver, Bellingham is in a location to reap the benefits of having the Olympics just a short drive north.

Bellingham will be a pit stop for many people on the road to the Winter Olympics. According to Cheryl Collins, visitor services manager for the Whatcom Country Tourism Center, restaurants, hotels and local businesses will greatly benefit from the large number of people using the city as a sleeping place, parking lot or rest stop in order to avoid the high prices of lodging and parking as well as the overflow of tourists in Vancouver.

Communications Manager for the City of Bellingham Nicole Oliver said the city hopes to a see an increase in visitors that will help boost the local economy. She said the city of Vancouver is doing anything they possibly can to keep visitors in the city instead of outside places like Bellingham in order to keep the money and tourism inside Vancouver.

However, Oliver said Bellingham will be seeing an increase in tourists that will stop on their way up the I-5 corridor to the border.

“People are going to pass through Bellingham and we hope they come back later because of how great it is here,” Oliver said. “We hope, however, they’ll get off the freeway and buy something.”

When Vancouver got the bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2006, Bellingham expected to receive a large benefit because of its close proximity to the host city. But, Oliver said that the impact the Olympics will have on Bellingham is not going to be as large as was originally thought. Collins said there is no way to predict the effect that the Olympics will have on the city until they begin because so far the city’s predictions have been wrong.

She said the city had predicted an overflow of people in Vancouver and that those people who were displaced there would stay in Bellingham instead. But so far, the prediction that Bellingham hotels would be experiencing an overflow in reservations was wrong. While hotels in Vancouver have been booked full for months, hotels in Bellingham, although receiving an increase in business, are not quite filled to capacity.

Olympic goers who want to avoid the high prices of hotels in downtown Vancouver, which have increased their rates due to high demand, are staying a little farther away. And for some, Bellingham is a convenient drive from the games and will provide Olympic attendees with the opportunity to save a little money on their lodging because of the price differences in hotels between here and Vancouver.

Bellingham Holiday Inn Front Desk Manager Robert Anderson said the average hotel price per night in Bellingham during the Olympics season is $179 whereas the average price in Vancouver per night is about $400. The Holiday Inn has increased their average rate of $99 for this time of year to $199.

At the Best Western Lakeway Inn, reservations for the month of February have skyrocketed.  Although their rooms have not yet sold out, Front Desk Manager Dana Weber said the Inn is about 70 percent filled for the duration of the Olympics. In February, the Inn is usually booked about 60 to 65 percent, but for this month, they expect to fill about 90 to 95 percent of the rooms, Weber said.

He said the Inn has been receiving inquires regarding lodging for the Olympics back in mid-2009 and is continuing to book rooms for the games.

Hotel beds are not going to be the only busy lodging options in Bellingham when the games begin. Some Bellingham residents, including Western junior Gavin Gladsjo, are renting out their houses, rooms, couches and anything else someone can sleep on comfortably to people who are going to the Winter Olympics.

Gladsjo, who lives on Potter Street, said he and his roommates are planning to post ads on Craigslist and to rent their couch out to Olympic goers for a mere $10 a night.

“We want to meet some travelers and make some new friends,” he said. [We want to] give someone who is looking for a cheap way to go to the Olympics the opportunity to do so.”
Western professor of Political Science Paul Chen said it is important for students to look at their rental agreement before renting out their rooms because it may say that doing so is against the contract and may result in heavy penalties. Gladsjo, who is aware of the possible legal issues involved with charging people to sleep in his house, plans to make sure it is approved by his landlord.

While the city cannot completely predict the overall effect that the Olympics will bring to Bellingham, Collins said her main hope is that the publicity the city is getting from its close proximity to Vancouver will showcase Bellingham as a vacation destination for future travelers. And although the possibility of this tourism boom will not be witnessed for a while, the extra business this city will receive come Feb. 12 can’t hurt.