If you want to stay in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, or at the Whistler ski resort during next February's Winter Olympics, get ready for a marathon search for a room - and some very hefty prices.
About 17,000 of the 25,000 hotel rooms in the Vancouver area already have been reserved by the Vancouver Organizing Committee, the official Olympics group, said Walt Judas, vice president of the city's Tourism Vancouver office.
That includes virtually all of downtown Vancouver's 12,000 hotel rooms. They'll be occupied by Olympics officials, security staff, media and visitors who buy officially sanctioned hotel/ticket packages.
Such block bookings are part of every Olympics, and most major Vancouver and Whistler hotels aren't yet permitting individual bookings or making rates public. Everything is on hold until the Vancouver Organizing Committee confirms the number of rooms it needs, expected later this month or in March.
However, it's unlikely rooms at major downtown Vancouver hotels will become available, said Judas; what's left will be about 8,000 hotel rooms scattered outside of downtown. Even some of those already may be contracted to companies.
At any hotel, expect to pay the high-season rate plus an Olympics premium of about 25 percent, said Judas.
Some rates already are sky-high. A four-bedroom, privately owned townhouse in Whistler that rents for about $600 a night this month is priced at about $4,870 a night during the Olympics. Houses in Vancouver are listed online at more than $2,000 a night.
At the Whistler ski resort, rooms could be harder to find than in Vancouver. "The organizing committee wants roughly 3,500 rooms," out of about 5,744 rooms in the area, said Erik Austin, vice president of Intrawest's Central Reservations. It's unclear how many of the leftover rooms will be available, since many Whistler accommodations are condo-hotels and owners may choose to occupy their units.
So how can you get a place to stay? If you don't have friends with a spare couch, here are some strategies. (And be sure to check on deposits, cancellations and minimum stays - there are stringent rules for Olympics bookings.)
Official packages: Hotel/event packages in Vancouver and Whistler are being sold by CoSport, which has the exclusive right to sell Olympics packages (and individual event tickets, although those are very scarce) to U.S. residents.
Five nights at downtown Vancouver's Marriott Pinnacle hotel, with tickets to five sports events plus the Opening Ceremony, costs $6,848 per person, double occupancy. In Whistler, a three-night, three-event package at the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside is $3,601 per person, double occupancy; www.cosport.com or phone 877-457-4647. Some cheaper Vancouver packages already are sold out.
Individual bookings: To avoid high package prices, find your own room and somehow snag tickets, or simply enjoy the public festivities and Olympic buzz.
The central clearinghouse for accommodations is the official Olympics site, www.2010destinationplanner.com. It has links to private house/condo rentals and even a cruise ship that will dock in Vancouver as a floating hotel. Bookings for major hotels can't be made yet at the site, but individuals can try contacting smaller hotels and B&Bs; directly (find listings at tourismvancouver.com).
For Whistler, check the official Olympics site as well as whistlerblackcomb.com where the Intrawest company, which runs the ski resort, offers centralized reservations (or call 866-218-9690). As in Vancouver, major Whistler hotels aren't yet taking Olympics bookings, but private owners already have posted Olympics rentals online. A long-running clearinghouse for private Whistler rentals is alluradirect.com. There also are individual listings on craigslist.com, but it's buyer beware, because there are few safeguards.
Shop around: It's unclear how the economic meltdown may affect bookings, so keep monitoring the prices. Rates could drop if the financial crisis and overpricing lessen demand (as occurred at the recent Olympics in Beijing and Salt Lake City). Rooms will become available over the coming months, perhaps even close to the start of the Olympics.