VANCOUVER, Washington (Reuters) - Sallie Reavey picked up the phone at her charming Briar Rose Inn and the caller asked about rooms in mid-February. “We have a nice selection of rooms for those dates,” she replied, to which the caller gasped: “You still have rooms during the Olympics?”
Reavey had to tell him: wrong Vancouver.
The Briar Rose is in Vancouver, Washington, not Vancouver, British Columbia, the Canadian city that will host the 2010 Winter Olympics starting on February 12.
“America’s Vancouver,” as a former town mayor liked to describe it, sits 250 miles south of the Olympic host Vancouver and has a population of some 165,000 people — far fewer than the Canadian city.
The Hilton Vancouver Washington has also fielded Olympic enquiries and trained its reservations staff to be sensitive to the possible mistake and, naturally, turn it into a marketing opportunity.
“We absolutely want them to come here,” Gerry Link, the hotel’s general manager said, adding of the Vancouver mix-ups: “So far it has all been pretty good-natured.”
To prevent any problems, the Hilton is also scouring its mid-February reservations and calling people who it fears might have booked rooms in the wrong country.
“We don’t want anyone to be disappointed. We want the Olympics to be a good experience for everyone,” Link said.
Vancouver, Washington, is used to playing second fiddle. It has long been overshadowed by its larger neighbor Portland which sits just across the Columbia River in Oregon.
The confusion with the Canadian city happened even before the Olympics, but American Vancouver’s new mayor thinks the Games present his community with an opening.
“We think this is a gold-medal opportunity for our Vancouver to stand out... It gives us an opportunity to tell who we are and what we have to offer,” Tim Leavitt said.
Both Vancouvers can trace their names to Captain George Vancouver, who explored the Pacific coast for the British Navy in the 1790s.
America’s Vancouver started out as the western headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company — a Canadian icon and a sponsor of the 2010 Olympics — and had a thriving army post, Fort Vancouver — now one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions.
“If people are getting confused, it gives us an opportunity to talk about the first Vancouver,” Jennifer Kirby of the Southwest Washington Convention and Visitors Bureau said gamely.
The city was incorporated in 1857, before the Johnny-Come-Lately in Canada in 1886.
The Vancouver confusion has dredged up a decades-old idea to change the American city’s name to Fort Vancouver.
Most people, including Mayor Leavitt, think the name change movement does not have any real traction. Citizens have voted down the name change on three occasions, but some think now may be the time.
“I think it would be a fine idea,” Reavey said. “It would certainly ease some of the confusion.”
Editing by Clare Fallon