Walker looking to boost service industry 

Writer is ninth candidate for mayor of Whistler

In an already crowded race for mayor it can sometimes be confusing to remember where all the candidates stand and on what issues.

For Brian Walker, a writer who has called Whistler home for 16 years, his entire campaign can generally be summed up in one word: service.

"Whistler is tourism-based, and is fundamentally built around service – that is the core of what our economy is all about," he said. "By far the largest constituency in town is the people in the service industry, whether they work in it, or whether they own service businesses. It also applies to people that are simply looking for more service from the municipality."

Although Whistler’s current economic problems stem from a variety of issues, Walker says he has also noticed an overall decline in the standard of service in recent years. The result, he adds, is that the town is slowly alienating the tourists we need to become return visitors.

"Make sure 15 per cent of your customers are return customers, and they will make up 85 per cent of your business – that’s an old business saying, and I think it fits here," said Walker.

One of the reasons that the level of service is declining, according to Walker, is that Whistler has not made it a priority to create and enforce a resort-wide standard of service.

"The (Spirit program offered by Tourism Whistler) was something, but it never came up to any kind of standard we need in this resort and it’s being watered down," said Walker. "We’re simply not doing enough to make sure our service is the best in the world."

Walker said he would try to create a service guild or another system that would certify front-line staff to ensure that they understand the principles and importance of service. Employers would then be encouraged to hire staff with guild status or certification.

Another reason Whistler’s service levels are declining, according to Walker, is the ongoing staff housing issue, as well as the high cost of living. As a result Whistler is losing its most qualified workers. People who are personally invested in the resort community, whether for a season or for the long-term, are more likely to provide visitors with a high level of service.

"I believe in the warm resort community concept, putting tourists and locals together, and we’ve been very successful with that over the years, but that has to be expanded to a warm house concept where everyone who works here should be able to live here," said Walker.

"I was at a community meeting where 150 business owners showed up, and the one question they were all asking is what (council) was going to do about employee accommodation. Whistler is transient, and it will always be that way, but these businesses were concerned about the number of people who were leaving town in management positions."

Walker acknowledges that the municipality is on the right track in creating more resident accommodation, such as the proposed subdivision in the Rainbow lands. However, he says he would prefer to see more infill housing in existing neighbourhoods rather than satellite subdivisions where people live and shop outside of the village and never feel part of the village.

"(Locals in the village) is what gives this town its buzz, and that’s what has been missing the last few years," said Walker.

"The development of Whistler is almost done, so the next phase we’re going to see is the cultural development of the town and that is where we need to have an engaged community. Once again, that’s where the service industry is going to be on the frontlines."

Staff housing is also important to stop people from moving to Squamish and Pemberton, said Walker.

"Our greatest commodity is the people who work front-line in the service industry, and they are the people that are most often overlooked."

Walker says he decided to run for mayor after noticing what he called a lack of spirit in town. "I think the town is looking for direction, looking for leadership, and the place to look for the solution to all of that is within the largest demographic – the people in the service industry."

As mayor, Walker says his priority will be to restore Whistler’s reputation as a tourist destination by stressing the importance of offering world class service. That in turn will help to get the economy back in order, which will have an impact on all other issues, he says.

Walker has worked for Pique, The Question and Whistler This Week as a restaurant reviewer, and currently runs a Whistler dining website which he hopes to expand. He was also the creator of the old Whistler disc golf course in Lost Lake.


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