Athletes would argue there's no bigger fixture than an Olympics. But most event planners are more interested in how a host city copes with the logistical challenges than the medals tally. Few can forget Athens' scramble to complete its venues in time for the 2004 Games, while Beijing's decadent spectacle in 2008 wowed a sceptical audience.
For Vancouver and Whistler, where the 2010 Winter Olympics begins in Canada on 21 February, first-night nerves are concealed by a dose of realism. "Watching the closing ceremony in Beijing knowing that we were the next in line had a few nerves jangling," says Tourism Vancouver travel media relations manager Wendy Underwood. "But we have to approach these games on our own terms, in a way that reflects the times we're in."
Unlike some Olympic host cities that require extensive cosmetic surgery ahead of the games, Vancouver is a city that is playing to its strengths. Even before it won the bid in 2003, the region was heralded as one of the world's leading natural spectacles with winter sports firmly rooted in its DNA. Today, Vancouver is a compact hub sitting on a spectacular waterfront, with all-weather offerings including the natural sanctity of Stanley Park and breathtaking peaks of Seymour, Grouse and Cypress mountains. Delegates can ski, sail and play golf on the same day. Meanwhile, the village of Whistler, a few hours drive away, is still a picturesque ski resort comprising numerous high-end properties and a dazzling array of outdoor activities to satisfy every kind of thrill-seeker.
Road to the Games
When the city first put in its bid for the Games, the International Olympic Committee took issue with the journey from the city to the ski resort of Whistler. The road connecting Vancouver to Whistler - known as Highway 99 or the 'Sea to Sky' highway - has since been developed to shorten journey times, while the Whistler Mountaineer, a tranquil three-hour rail excursion, offers breathtaking views of steep river gorges and waterfalls.
Boasting an unrivalled quality of life and a glittering array of incentive options, both centres have been popular choices with UK meeting planners. But now the infrastructural changes for the Games have enhanced them further. The new Vancouver Convention Centre, has recently been extended with the unveiling of the West Building in June. The centre will be used as the press centre during the Games, something that the convention bureau hope will give it unrivalled exposure.
The Canada Line, the rapid rail service from the airport into the heart of Vancouver created for the Games, has eased the journey. Completed ahead of schedule, both developments will leave a lasting legacy for officials and meeting planners alike. "These were projects that were on the federal government's radar, but have been expedited because of the Olympics," says Tourism Vancouver convention manager Sarah Graham.
But Vancouver has had its fair share of challenges. The global economic crisis had a sharp effect on the city's projected income from sponsorship and private investment for the Olympics, leading to a series of cost-cutting measures. Earlier this year, the developer behind the Olympic village, one of the event's focal points, was bailed out as part of a wider rescue deal part funded by Vancouver's taxpayers.
Otherwise, the city is ready and eager to play host. Official sponsors such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Visa and Omega are already bedding down in the city claiming parts of them as their own.
Panasonic will host a one-night corporate event in Stanley Park during the Games. In Granville Island, one of the city's bustling industrial districts, Coca-Cola will have an expanded presence hiring Granville Hotel property for the duration of the for corporate events. In nearby Richmond, Heineken will transform the Minoru Arenas into an entertainment hub that will attract Olympic officials, Dutch athletes, corporate delegates and dignitaries, including members of the Dutch royal family.
OLYMPICS PLANNER'S GUIDE
GETTING THERE: Air Canada, BA and BMI operate daily flights from Heathrow to Vancouver.
WHERE TO STAY: Boutique hunters should head to Robson Square where the Wedgewood Hotel and Spa offers 83 luxurious rooms. Delegates using the Vancouver Convention Centre could consider the Pan Pacific, a 504-room stalwart with panoramic backdrops.
Just a short walk along Vancouver's seawall is the 511-room Westin Bayshore, which will house Olympic officials. Other hotels include the Best Western Granville Hotel, which will be exclusively hired by Coca-Cola during the Games.
Whistler has an abundance of high-end properties with the 273-room Four Seasons Whistler among the finest. A two-minute walk away is the Fairmont Chateaux, a 550-room property with three restaurants and meeting space for up to 1,750 delegates.
C&I VENUES: The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a vertigo-inducing venue ideal for outdoor events in the peak season. As well as a 137-metre swaying bridge, the site includes numerous hospitality options including the Canyon Lookout for 150 - a deck set nearly 100 metres above the gushing waters of the Capilano River.
Vancouver Convention Centre has recently been extended with the unveiling of the West Building in June that has tripled its capacity to almost 46,500m2. It comprises a spectacular ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and jaw-dropping views.
Whistler Conference Centre is a more intimate alternative, offering an eco-friendly setting with 13 break-out rooms and a 300-seat theatre.
INCENTIVE IDEAS: Grab the Skyride 1,100 metres above Vancouver onto the summit of Grouse Mountain. Awaiting are a host of group activities, including a adrenaline-fuelled Zip Ride.
The Olympics have brought with them a plethora of Winter Games-related incentives. Groups can head to the Richmond Olympic Oval, one of the few venues built exclusively for the games, to "train like an Olympian" and test the ice hockey and speed-skating facilities.
Whistler offers the Sliding Centre on Blackcomb Mountain. The Athlete Start House boasts spectacular views over the bobsleigh, skeleton and men's luge course and can be hired for meetings. "Clients can trial the luge or the bobsleigh as part of a wider incentive package," says DMC Cantrav Services director Janice Cann.
PLACES TO PARTY: Vancouver highlights include La Terrazza, a popular restaurant in thriving Yaletown. The stylish eaterie has an exotic wine list and seats up to 200, with two private rooms seating 50 and 24 respectively. Other restaurants include C, one of the city's famed seafood restaurants. Those searching for an after-dinner nightcap should head to the bustling nightspots in Yaletown, Gastown or Granville districts. The village of Whistler has a more compact nightlife with Buffalo Bills and Garfinkels among the hottest tickets in town.