Birch Bay and Blaine should do everything possible to make sure people outside the region are aware of the accommodations available to tourists during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, even if it means parking a trailer alongside the freeway with a banner on the side.
That was the message from former B.C. tourism minister Bill Reid who spoke at a Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce meeting at CJ’s Beachhouse restaurant earlier this week.
Reid, a member of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce who worked on the planning for the 1986 Expo fair in Vancouver – an event that brought more than 2.5 million visitors – told chamber members the area has a lot to offer road-weary travelers but that without proper advertising, they could miss out on a huge opportunity. Reid has owned a summer house in Birch Bay for the past 26 years.
Reid urged the business community to invest in billboards and send emails and web connections to chambers of commerce along the coast as far away as San Diego.
“Anyone from those communities planning on traveling to the Olympics are going to call those chambers and ask where they can stay near Vancouver,” he said.
Responding to a question from Birch Bay realtor Mike Kent about the best way to get travelers off the freeway, Reid suggested the community invest in a billboard on I-5 as soon as possible.
“If you can’t get a billboard, just rent a big 40 foot trailer and put it on the side of the highway near Grandview,” he said. “You gotta get them off the highway, and that’s easy to do if you invite them.”
Reid, however, said that the real economic impact of the Olympics won’t come over night. Rather, Reid predicted that because of the “magnet effect,” or the excitement of the games, Olympic travelers will likely stop only long enough for a bite to eat or to sleep but will probably return at later dates when they recall the area’s beauty and quality of life.
He cited his experience with the Expo fair. “The ‘magnet’ was too strong,” he said. “For example, people traveling from Calgary, Alberta would normally stop in Kamloops, which is about half-way, where they would stay over night and have breakfast. But because the Expo magnet was so strong, people stopped in Kamloops, bought chips and pop and burgers and then kept driving,” he said. “The businesses knew that people stopped for Expo but they didn’t stay overnight and they decided to make their way to Vancouver. That also happened in every major transportation corridor.”
The situation with Blaine and Birch Bay during the Olympics could be different because of the sheer number of athletes and visitors who have booked most of the vacancies in Vancouver and lower mainland B.C. Because of this, he predicts travelers will be looking for accommodations in the Bellingham area. And because Blaine and Birch Bay are closer to the border than Bellingham, it could make them a more attractive option.
“Almost all the available rooms in the perimeter of Vancouver, White Rock and Fraser Valley are all pre-booked for athletes, sporting teams and families of the athletes,” he said. “There are a lot of spectators who haven’t booked yet and when they do book, they will still want to be as close as possible. That’s going to be Blaine and Birch Bay, which is only 40 minutes to Vancouver, but people have to know there are rooms and great restaurants available. So the merchants have got to be ready to scoop all these people who are looking for a place to put their heads down and eat some food,” he said.