At Your Service: Feb. 17, 2010

Every two years we experience an event eight years, or two “Olympiads,” in the making. The Olympics were so important to the ancient Greeks that they measured time in terms of the reoccurrence of the athletic competitions; they called a period of four years an Olympiad. The games are given great importance in our times as well, although the reasons are different.

For the ancient Greeks the games were an open competition in which anyone who believed himself or herself qualified could compete. During the period of time surrounding the games, peace was declared among the states to allow for the safe passage of the athletes from their homes to Olympia. It was also a religious experience, as it was believed that in order to win one must be blessed by the Gods.

Today’s athletes often devote their entire lives to becoming an Olympic athlete and are selected through a series of rigorous competitions to represent their nations. Those who capture the winning medals will be blessed with endless opportunities for future gold. The biggest winners associated with the modern Olympics, however, are the host city and nation.

The combination of the improvements to the host city’s infrastructure and worldwide promotional opportunities the Olympics afford can completely transform the future of an area. As evidenced by Beijing, hosting can herald a complete revolution in a nation’s relationship to the rest of the world.

Being a sport-centered tourist destination can change everything. It is unlikely that our area will ever be selected to host an Olympics. Yet, there are many parallels between our future and that of Vancouver.

At the turn of the last century, Vancouver was one of the premier tourism destinations served by the railroad. Trains brought people to an area otherwise difficult to access from Canadian and Western American cities; just as trains served this region as a vital link to New York’s metropolitan area. While changes to the railroad system did not alter either region’s spectacular beauty, loss of the trains as a primary mode of tourist transportation adversely impacted their economies.
Herein lie opportunities for our area. We do not have the support of a nation’s commitment to rebuild and enhance our infrastructure, but we do have a handful of entrepreneurs willing to invest their resources in our community. This is leading to the slow rebuilding of structures across the region. We are seeing the stirrings of new business development and renewed vitality for our existing businesses.

Whether it is skiing, hunting, biking, hiking or the many other activities that make the area a natural tourism destination, sports serve as a powerful foundation on which we can revitalize our economy. Both the first-time visitor and the part-time resident find compelling reasons to return in the beauty of the surroundings and enervating environs.

We do not have Olympic size events to attract visitors, instead we have the opposite and that gives us a different kind of advantage. There are valid reasons to avoid putting all our eggs in one economic basket, there are more compelling reasons to consider tourism a great first basket.