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A Hotel Prepares for the Winter Olympics
After a sleepy year, the hotel industry in Vancouver and Whistler is about to get a blaring wakeup call. From February 12 to 28, the 2010 Winter Olympics are expected to draw 250,000 spectators, plus top athletes, foreign dignitaries and international media. Hotels in Vancouver are now sold-out for sixteen consecutive nights in a month they're usually screaming for business.
Given the sheer volume and the related security concerns, suppliers to the Games will face a number of logistical challenges. Hotels have the added stress of being a twenty-four-hour operation. That means long days and lots of overtime for staff, who may be reluctant to waste what little downtime they have battling traffic to get home and back again.
Typically, when employees work back-to-back shifts hotels put them up in a guestroom for the night to ensure they're perky for guests in the morning. But with visitors now fighting over scraps of private homes, campgrounds and RV parks, that won't be an option during the Olympics. Nor will crashing at a friend's place. Spare rooms, sofas and inflatable mattresses will be taken by out-of-town friends and relatives. Or paying strangers. The demand for accommodation has brought new meaning to the term "Go for the gold!" Employees who do make it home might discover that their enterprising spouse has rented out their side of the bed to a small Norwegian family.
Over dinner recently, I asked Opus Hotel Vancouver General Manager Nicholas Gandossi about his plans. "I'm having a cot installed in my office," he tells me with characteristic good-nature. "That way I can avoid the commute."
Across the table, his wife Nicola, who works at another downtown hotel, shoots him a look. "And what about our two kids at home, honey?" she asks.
Nicholas scratches his chin. "Oh. Right. The kids."
There's no room for a cot in Opus Executive Chef Don Letendre's office. "I'll be sleeping in the storage room," he tells me. "It won't be the first time." And his family? "They'll be heading to Palm Springs. That way I can work around-the-clock guilt-free."
At a hotel I worked for in Toronto, when we overbooked and the city was full we used to roll cots into our meeting rooms and house guests there, supplying free alcohol and snacks and positioning it as a super-fun slumber party. Guests were not amused, but it was better than sleeping in the street. During the Games, however, virtually every inch of meeting space has been pre-reserved for Olympic-related functions.
Employees may have to settle for catching a few winks leaning against a wall or spooning with a side of beef in the walk-in cooler. "My team will be bringing in sleeping bags and using the housekeeping office as our sleeping quarters," Opus Executive Housekeeper Julieta Laliberty informs me. "That way we can be available 24/7." But given the stockpiles hotels will require to service guests and cater events, employees may find themselves jockeying for space with cases of Okanagan wines, smoked salmon and maple syrup.
Another concern is that freeloaders will crash the party, the kind of clingy parasitical types who are almost impossible to get rid of. No, not the in-laws. In Sydney, the 2000 Olympics were blamed for a serious bedbug outbreak after the Games. The H1N1 virus is another avid traveler who loves to mingle in large groups. As precautions, staff of Opus and other host hotels will be welcoming the world not only with bright smiles and glowing hearts but with complimentary hand sanitizers and mattresses encased in plastic.
Despite the challenges, there's no question that hotel staff in Vancouver and Whistler are pumped and ready for the Games. To ease the pressure, temporary employees have been recruited and reinforcements are being sent from sister properties. At Opus, where offsite catering commitments alone will require an additional 150 employees, a group of bilingual staff from Opus Montreal will fly in to lend a hand. With all the excitement around, sleep might only be a distraction.
Along with the cot, Nicholas has had a 52-inch plasma-screen television installed in his office. "Purely for professional reasons," he assures me, mumbling something about video-conferencing. Right. I'll bet that whenever Canada makes the finals in a sporting event, which will hopefully be very often, employees will be crawling out of storage rooms, closets and room service carts to watch the spectacle, and it'll be standing-room only in the GM's office.
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