Group explores education tourism ideas for Whistler 

Whistler Education Group forms to explore using facilities for a range of courses and workshops

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A wise man once said that "education is the transmission of civilization", but it takes the transmitters — the people with a plan — to make that possible.

To that end, seven engaged Whistlerites have formed the Whistler Education Group (WEG) to independently explore how to grow education tourism in the resort. They want to know the viability of using existing infrastructure, facilities and talent to offer a one-stop shop for anyone wanting to teach courses, workshops or other programs — whether they be academic, creative or vocational.

For example, a photographer or artist could offer a program over several days, weeks or a season — but use existing office space for classes and workshops. Students would come, often bringing families, and make the most of being at the resort.

While WEG's plan is in the early stages, its members — including Sue Adams of the Whistler Arts Council (WAC), Roger Soane, general manager of the Nita Lake Lodge and chairman of Tourism Whistler, and Doug Forseth, vice president of planning at Whistler Blackcomb — believe the approach will bring students and their families from all over the world to learn and enjoy Whistler's many attractions.

"The discussion that this group is having comes out of my belief and experience that every time we get into financial trouble here, in that I mean that tourism gets lower, somebody says 'where do we have to expand?'" said psychologist Stephen Milstein, who is the chair of the group.

Arts and education are the two cure-alls that come up repeatedly to fix that ailment, Milstein said, but "arts is moving" and so the group decided to look at education. They were, of course, aware of current proposals from Whistler University and Capilano University, but they believe their plan adds something new to the mix.

Milstein trains psychologists and therapists for two Pacific-Northwest institutes by teaching short courses and workshops in Seattle, but he felt it would work very well closer to home.

"I was successful in bringing three small workshops, 15 to 25 people, to Whistler a number of years ago. I had a terrible time doing it. I live here, I know the town. It wasn't a question of getting them to come, it was putting together an appropriate training facility in town here," he said.

"I ended up buying a monster TV... or I could have gone to a place and paid $500 a day, which the course couldn't support."

An umbrella organization supporting educators of all types would be sustainable by using equipment, empty spaces and accommodations.

Whistler resident Laurie Grant, a business lecturer at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, has brought three of her students on board to conduct a study of the feasibility and challenges of the WEG proposal. The students, who started their work two weeks ago and will continue to the end of August, will produce a paper on who the market could be for such courses, what the organization would need to look like to make it work, and what similar programs currently exist.

Lennert DeProtter, one of the students working on the project, is approaching it from his area of specialty, the hospitality industry.

"I've been working on the industry profile, benchmarking. Looking at what other destinations are doing, looking for a model we could adapt for Whistler," he said.

"But what we want to do for Whistler is something new, so we would not use what is already out there."

Grant said while researching other models, like the Canadian Learning Centre at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, is useful so far there aren't any models that fit using existing resources. All have been purpose built.

 Adams said the WEG is looking forward to seeing what the students' findings will reveal and believes it could inform future decisions about the use of space at Millennium Place, including its theatre and boardroom. The arts council has made office space available to DeProtter and the other students, she said.

Currently and coincidently, the WAC was already looking at how to better use Millennium Place.

"That's only one example of the facilities we have in the community. The Rainbow Theatre, the film festival is looking at using, but they will need other things to supplement that as well. As well as the Field House, there are lots of conference rooms in the hotels..." Adams said.

"This project seems to fits well with the arts council. The research that comes (from the students) could be quite influential."

Said Milstein: "There's community space, there's commercial space, there's all sorts of different types of spaces we can use."

The findings are due to be reviewed in the early fall, and plans to take it forward in the community will be put in place afterwards. Comments, questions or those wanting to participate can direct inquiries to whistlereducationgroup@gmail.com.

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