The main driver of WinterPRIDE gay ski week in Whistler is looking into relocating the festival next year.
Dean Nelson, the CEO and executive producer of the festival through his company Alpenglow Productions, said the decision by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) not to grant any funding to support the festival in its 21st year lies at the root of the discussions around moving the festival. During a festival wrap-up interview Nelson wondered out loud if the festival will come back to Whistler in 2014.
"When you look at all the other festivals receiving some funding, it would have been nice to have received a little bit of something," said Nelson.
"We're looking at other destinations. We've been approached by a few that love what we're doing and we may look at moving the festival or scaling it back because we just can't continue to grow it with the resources we have available to us."
The event producer pointed out that Crankworx and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) received RMOW Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A) funding despite the fact that those festivals have major corporate sponsors while WinterPRIDE week doesn't have the backing of any large corporations.
The WSSF learned last year that Telus would not return as the title sponsor of the festival in 2014 and the festival was granted $135,000 to enhance the free village concert series.
The RMOW has allocated $2.8 million in FE&A, with less than $1 million given to nine different festivals. The amounts range from $30,000 for the Readers and Writers Festival to $250,000 for Ironman Canada.
Nelson was looking for $30,000 to $100,000 in FE&A funding.
"If we don't have a solid baseline to stabilize the festival why should we continue to put our personal selves at risk producing this if Whistler isn't interested in supporting us?" Nelson asked.
He said he just wants the festival he organizes to be treated fairly.
"Right now we're competing against Vail," said Nelson, pointing out that comedian Drew Carey is headlining the gay ski week festival in the American resort. "There's no way we can do that. The only funding we get is through our corporate sponsorship, which is mostly all in-kind and through ticket sales. The reality is you cannot put on a festival based just on ticket sales because there's too many variables we don't have control over."
While Nelson is open to moving the festival out of Whistler he said the 65 festival events went very well this year. He noted that a number of fundraising events took place, resulting in a $500 donation going to the Whistler Health Care Foundation. Nelson estimated the economic impact the festival has on Whistler each year rings in at $4.5 million.
"Hopefully they'll (the RMOW) be able to make a decision in early or late summer for 2014 because we cannot wait until January to find out if we get funding, it's too late," Nelson said. "We need to be out of the gate strong by September, October at the latest with whatever funding we have available to us so we can get that message out there and start stealing that market share from other destinations that are being very, very aggressive with their LGBT tourism.
"Whistler has a choice. Do you really want to attract this market, which is, in my opinion, quite lucrative for the resort?" asked Nelson.
WinterPRIDE is one of the events selected by the RMOW for an economic impact study, but those results are not available at this time.
Whistler Chamber of Commerce president Fiona Famulak said that, anecdotally, the festival was a success. "Our members in the hospitality sector had a very good week," she said, particularly for the second weekend of the festival which dovetailed with the first B.C. Family Day holiday.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, a judge at the Mr. Gay Canada competition, said she would be very disappointed if the festival didn't return in 2014.
"I was speaking with people who were at the fashion show and the contest on Thursday night and they were talking about persecution they have had in other countries, and how they just love the welcome they get in Whistler, and how they feel safe — how they feel the inclusive atmosphere here, so it would be very disappointing if WinterPRIDE went elsewhere next year," said Wilhelm-Morden.
While there are no solid numbers to work from Wilhelm-Morden said that from all accounts the festival went well.
This year for the first time WinterPRIDE was held over the same weekend, Feb 8 to 11, as the new Family Day statutory holiday in B.C., making the resort a busy place.
According to Whistler Blackcomb 85,000 skiers and snowboarders took advantage of British Columbia's newest holiday weekend.
"From Friday to Monday we managed to draw the kind of daily visit numbers we see over our busiest time periods like U.S. Presidents' Week and Christmas holidays," said Dave Brownlie, president and CEO of Whistler Blackcomb.
"As the numbers prove, this date allowed us to capture incremental visitation in the month of February, and B.C. residents were given their holiday a week before an already peak time period over the third weekend of February when Presidents' Week and other provincial Family Days take place."
Canada West Ski Areas Association, Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and other tourism-based businesses successfully promoted BC Family Day to fall on the second weekend of February instead of the third week originally proposed.
The holiday will take place every year on the second Monday in February.
—With files by Cathryn Atkinson
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