By Loreth Beswetherick
A three-year-old Whistler reservations company that has done $7 million in reservations business compared to the Whistler Resort Association’s $10 million, has been snapped up by Intrawest for an undisclosed amount.
A deal was struck earlier this year between Resort Reservations Whistler and Intrawest. The acquisition also includes the Tremblant arm of the reservations company — Mont Tremblant Reservations.
Intrawest’s director of corporate communications, Valerie Sharp, said although the employees know about the sale, Intrawest wants to keep the deal low key in terms of the media.
"We want to issue a release in early October and announce an overall plan," said Sharp. "This deal is just part of that plan."
President of Resort Reservations Whistler, Stan Springer confirmed the sale. He said he now has immediate plans to triple operations and is planning to hire a staff of 60 to handle reservations.
To date, Springer’s Tremblant operation has functioned along the lines of the WRA’s central reservations. In Whistler, he has been running a call centre out of Function Junction selling Whistler accommodations. He also has a strong on-line presence which can now be accessed through Whistler-Blackcomb’s web site.
"We are basically like an inbound travel agency focusing on one product," said Springer. "We sell anything from air to lift tickets, accommodations and activities." He takes a 15 per cent commission for local hotel bookings.
"What I have done in Tremblant and in Whistler, Intrawest now wants me to expand those operations to their other resorts throughout North America," said Springer.
He said he will operate two distinct divisions: one that sells Whistler and one that sells Intrawest vacation packages.
Springer has 15 years of experience in destination marketing. He said currently, 13 per cent of his Whistler business comes from Europe, 75 to 80 per cent comes from the U.S. and around 10 to 12 per cent is Canadian.
"We will be mainly focusing on the US destination markets," he said.
Springer will maintain a marketing and internet presence in Function Junction but he will move his reservations staff out, possibly to North Vancouver.
"We need a whole lot more space... between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet so we are looking around," said Springer. He was initially looking at taking more office space in Function. "But until they build a building there, I don’t see it."
He also said he can’t meet his year-round staffing requirements locally.
"There’s not enough human resources to serve our purposes in Whistler," said Springer. "It is great in season to find people but to find year-round staff that isn’t so transient... it’s very, very tough," he said. "The local population base is not that high and the unemployment rate is low. I placed an ad in Vancouver and got 250 applications," said Springer. "I placed that same ad in Whistler and I got nine."
He said the cost of living and accommodation makes it unattractive for prospective employees to relocate to Whistler.