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The good news for those, like the FE&A oversight committee, trying to sort out the value of these and other festivals is that they will be comparable. Using RMI money, the municipality has hired the Canadian Sports Tourism Alliance to measure the economic impact of eight festivals. Three — Cornucopia, RBC GranFondo and Whistler Film Festival — were done in 2011. Five others were done last year. The 2012 results should be available in the next few months.
The CSTA says it uses a model that standardizes results, "thereby allowing for comparability of the economic impacts of different events in different locations across Canada." Which will be helpful, because one of the things lacking in the numbers thrown around is context.
If, for example, you add up the economic impact to Whistler of WinterPRIDE, WFF, WSSF, Crankworx, GranFondo and Cornucopia, according to the studies noted above, they total $45.1 million. It's not an accurate number for various reasons: the studies were done in different years; some were done a long time ago; the methodologies may have been significantly different. Still, as a ballpark figure, how do these six festivals fit within the $1 billion in annual tourism spending that Whistler was estimated to generate back in 2000, including $921 million in direct spending within Whistler?
Economic impact is one criterion for evaluating festivals and events — an important one, to be sure, but not the only one. Putting heads in beds at times of the year when there are plenty of empty beds is obviously another one.
Measuring the value of media coverage generated by a festival and/or a festival's ability to raise Whistler's profile is more subjective. How much value is media coverage in Kyrgyzstan or some other unlikely market for Whistler? Or what's the value of television coverage in a prime market if the broadcast is at 3 a.m. or six months after the event?
Then there's value for money. The Whistler Readers and Writers Festival believes it can bring in a big name writer with the $30,000 in FE&A funding it will have for this year's festival. Film stars, presumably, cost more.
The stated goal of the FE&A program is "to grow room nights and enhance the visitor experience in the resort." Several resort partners are working with the FE&A oversight committee in ongoing reviews and evaluations of events and the CSTA research in an effort to ensure the program is meeting its goal.
In other words, there's a fairly broad cross-section of the community providing input and rationale on how public money is allocated. Event producers certainly have the right to question decisions — and ultimately they are council's decisions — about who gets FE&A funding and who doesn't. But they should remember, it can be a fine line between questioning and whining.
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