Local hotels pour millions into upgrades 

RMOW works to support product reinvestment and development

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After 15 years seeing Whistler's guests come and go, the Delta Whistler Village Suites is getting a $7 million overhaul in the coming shoulder seasons, part of more than $14 million in recent, or upcoming, hotel upgrades throughout the village.

"It's a complete guest room refurbishment," said the Delta's general manager Colin Perry of the 205-suite renovation that will see primarily cosmetic changes in the hotel from new tiles to new furnishings.

"It'll be a significant renovation, certainly the biggest renovation that we've done in our hotel and it's really going to reposition our hotel in the market."

Tourism Whistler has collected statistics detailing the reinvestment from local hotels, which outline upgrades from $50,000 to the million-dollar range — TW was unable to respond before press time this week — all part of the resort's focus to stay current in the travel market.

This interest in reinvestment in Whistler's aging infrastructure comes in part from a push among resort partners to support product reinvestment and development as outlined in the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) report, released last fall. It's particularly timely as Whistler begins to show the signs of its middle age — it is afterall approaching its 40th anniversary.

Stephen Webb, chair of the Whistler Hotel Association, was part of the EPI committee.

"It is obviously important to match guest expectations and that unfortunately means you do have to continually upgrade, whether that's technology or whether that's soft furnishings, it seems to be that it's always something that needs to be done," said Webb. "Technology, particularly, I would say is going to be outpacing us faster in many areas."

Webb said that many properties have invested in flat screen LCD TV's in recent years, but those are now outdated to some extent with the explosion of Smart technology. Upgrading to Smart TV's won't be far off many reinvestment projects, he said.

Webb is the general manager for the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa. He puts aside a percentage of gross revenues every year for reinvestment and upgrades — six per cent. That's par for the course for hotels, which typically put aside four to eight per cent per year.

Last year the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which was built 25 years ago, spent $2 million on its hotel. That money went towards an overhaul of the Chateau's Mountain View and Penthouse Suites with new furnishings, artwork and lighting. In addition, the Mallard Lounge got new paint and furniture and the Wildflower Restaurant received new chairs.

The EPI report details one focus area to supporting product reinvestment and development with a series of recommendations, among them exploring opportunities with landlords for reinvestment in properties and refreshing aging infrastructure. One initiative considers tax exemptions as a potential tool to attract reinvestment.

Councillor John Grills, the council representative on Whistler 3.0, the municipally driven project looking at ways to keep the village vibrant and storefronts relevant, said the tax break options might be difficult.

"How far do we want local government to get into business?" he asked.

On the other hand, he said work is underway to streamline application processes at municipal hall to pave the way for owners looking to renovate.

The other municipal role, he said, is to drive business to the resort, a role the municipality is taking more and more seriously as it expands and develops its festivals, events and animation program.

Said Grills: "I've always said the best way to help businesses in town is to get the place busier."

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