Following the money 

RMOW commissions consultants for detailed economic study of resort

click to enlarge ECONOMic drivers
  • ECONOMic drivers

With a budget of $75,000, the municipality is commissioning a major study, with an aim to examine what's keeping the economic heart of Whistler pumping.

The idea is to look at the threats and challenges, and the opportunities facing Whistler in the ever-shifting world of tourism realities.

This comes as Vancouver research and strategic planning consultants Urban Futures released a study into visitor trends to British Columbia since 1998, which shows an overall decline.

The study, which looks at travel trends and factors influencing visits to B.C., found that the number of Americans visiting B.C. has declined by 36 per cent or 2.4 million visits since 1998.

Tourism Whistler's president and CEO Barrett Fisher confirmed that the decline of U.S. visitors is happening in Whistler too.

"Over the past decade there's no doubt that we have seen a decline in our U.S. visitation, most pointedly from the long haul markets, but certainly from regional U.S. markets as well," she said.

"But then most recently, looking at 2012, we're starting to see that rebound, not in huge leaps at this point, but there are some positive signs.

"To a certain degree we're at the mercy of things that are out of our control — disposable income, consumer confidence, all of those sorts of things."

The new economic study is a first step to begin mitigating those factors beyond Whistler's control.

It begins with data collecting and then some soul-searching to figure out Whistler's place in this ever-changing world of global recessions, fluctuating currency exchange rates, cultural tourism, a decline in destination visitors, and all the other factors having big impacts on the local economy. Ultimately, the report will form the basis for potential economic development down the road. Or not, depending on what the case may be.

"Basically... the market and the world around us is not the same as it was," explained Councillor Jayson Faulkner, the council representative on the EPI committee. "Because it's changed as rapidly as it has, it's important to identify and have an idea of what those threats and opportunities are and what our strengths and weaknesses are relative to those. Those are big questions."

They're too big for the key organizations in Whistler to answer with the data at hand.

And so, the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) Committee, which is made up of top reps from Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler, the Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel Association of Whistler, brought together by the municipality, decided to issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) for consultants to do the work with a budget of $75,000.

That decision was not taken lightly, said Faulkner. "It was something that we took very seriously," he said. "We have a high degree of intolerance of wanting to spend money on outside consultants if we can avoid it and wanting to use as much in-house and in-community expertise as we can possibly find. But the challenge in this was that we don't have anyone or any organization that has the data that we're looking for. And it's really crucial data."

Speaking of RMOW, Tourism Whistler

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