Winter Olympics conjure up images of skates and skis, mukluks and mittens. But the 2010 Games are being held in British Columbia, where winter is just as likely to involve golf as it is giant slalom, and local tourism operators are hoping to cash in on the atypical climate.

The fact that people can sail in the morning and ski in the afternoon creates unique options for Olympic spectators.

One Alberta-based company is offering golf on nearby Vancouver Island before or after the Games, along with a stay aboard a cruise ship. Stays on the Norwegian Star start at $2,010 for a four-night stay.

And with around 27,000 hotels rooms available in the Vancouver area and as many as 300,000 visitors expected for the Olympics, travellers just might need to get creative finding a place to stay in 2010.

Though there’s just one year until the Games, it’s still unclear how many traditional hotel rooms will be available to the public.

“We’re finding out as we go, particularly as we get inside a year we’ll know more,” said Walt Judas, vice-president of marketing for Tourism Vancouver.

More than half of Vancouver’s hotel rooms are reserved for the international and local Olympic committees, who have until March to start notifying hotels of how many rooms they’ll actually need, though it’s not expected that any will be released.

Some hotels put aside as much as 75 per cent of their rooms for Olympic officials and media. Athletes and team officials will not be taking up space in hotels as they will be staying at the Olympic village.

“When the Olympics are all over and there is a big bill to pay, people will think ‘oh yeah, the hotels are getting a lot of money.’ But we aren’t,” said Zack Bhatia, the vice-president of Mayfair Hotels and Resorts, which owns six hotels in the Vancouver area.

Hotels in the Vancouver area and in Whistler, B.C. were asked to lock in rates during the bid phase for the Games. Those lucky enough to secure a room through the Olympic committee are only paying about 15 per cent more than high-season.

But room rates for the public are much higher.

At a Radisson hotel near the Vancouver airport, rooms during the Olympics will be $599 per night, with a minimum stay of four nights. The regular nightly rate in February is around $150.

But over-charging could leave operators with empty rooms or worse, said Judas.

“The customer that we see in 2010, the visitor that’s here for the Games is the same person we want here in 2011 and 2012 and beyond,” he said.

“If they think they’ve been hard done by in any way, or over-charged, we’re not going to see them as a repeat customer.”

Prices that were already high have climbed into the stratosphere in Whistler, B.C., which will host mountain events for the Games.

Fewer journalists are expected to stay in the mountain resort and the German Olympic delegation has cancelled plans to use the village as its base.

Even with a bad economy, Americans are hungry for 2010 travel packages, said Anbritt Stengele with Sports Traveller, a Chicago-based company specializing in travel to sports events.

“The Olympics is once in a lifetime,” said Stengele. “People are looking to still do this trip, but at a lower cost.”

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