The Whistler Resort Association makes a fair case for the 8 per cent increase in members fees it wants to levy, although some people question whether they get their money’s worth from the WRA now. That perception, the WRA has begun to discover, at least in part stems from a lack of information coming out of the resort association.
But leaving aside for the moment the question of whether members get their money worth out of the WRA or not, the increase in fees — which is to be used for marketing — is rooted in Whistler’s development and its competitive position in the world of mountain resorts.
The changing landscape of the ski resort business, and the aggressiveness of Whistler’s number one competitor, Vail, in pursuing destination visitors, has been the subject of a number of stories in the last six months.
The second factor that has prompted the WRA fee increase, the 1,200 new hotel units that will be available next winter, has also been reported several times, though the magnitude of this may be less well understood.
In Hugh Smythe’s words, 1,200 new units is probably more "warm" beds than all the other ski resorts in North America combined are adding next winter. It’s the equivalent of six 200-room hotels. The retailers, restaurateurs and shop owners — including those who will occupy the commercial space beneath those new units — are relying on the WRA and, increasingly, Intrawest, to make sure those units are filled next winter.
Hence the 8 per cent fee increase for marketing.
In hindsight, this absurd growth in accommodation units in one season could have been avoided if, a) the provincial government had exercised some restraint in selling off the Village North parcels or, b) the developers had shown some restraint in selling the units. But at this point the 1997 construction season (it used to be called summer) looks like it will be just about as busy as last season. Much of it will be finishing projects that were begun last year, but even those just getting started this summer can’t put their projects on hold for a year because they’ve already pre-sold all the units.
In other words, the market for condo-hotel units in Whistler is, at the moment still red hot, even though it’s going to take a huge effort to fill all those units on a regular basis next winter.
If they aren’t filled next winter there could be a substantial impact on the condo-hotel re-sale market. The retailers, restaurateurs and shop owners will have a pretty good idea what the occupancy levels are like and how the condo re-sale market is shaping up.
The development of Whistler has been an experiment — a highly successful experiment for the most part — since day 1. One of the things to consider, if anyone decides to try this experiment again some day, is some sort of control over the rate of development once a critical mass has been reached.