Whistler must 'stay vigilant' in its economic planning 

RMOW chooses EPS and RRC associates to conduct economic study

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Whistler's new Economic Partnership Initiative Committee (EPI) is outlining its work to share, brainstorm and support economic development.

And this week the Resort Municipality of Whistler announced that it had selected two research and consulting services to provide analysis for the EPI panel.

Economic & Planning Systems (EPS) and RRC Associates will look at the resort community's economic activity, including value-added revenues, tax revenues, and employment levels.

EPS was founded in 1983 and has three offices in California, and in Denver. RRC Associates is a consumer research and consulting firm specializing in the travel and tourism industry, particularly in mountain resorts and leisure destinations throughout North America. It is based in Boulder, Colorado.

The EPI committee pulls together major stakeholders from the RMOW, Tourism Whistler, the Hotel Association of Whistler, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, and Whistler Blackcomb in a unique show of cooperation.

Mike Furey, the RMOW's chief administrative officer, Tourism Whistler's president Barrett Fisher and Whistler councillor Jayson Faulkner made presentations as part of the 2013 Budget Open House at the Whistler Conference Centre on Dec. 6.

Furey said the initial meetings of the EPI had established its goals: to grow the resort community's economy; build confidence; and attract investment.

"We all know the resort economy here and the resort economies that compete with (us) and we want to stay ahead of the curve," Furey said.

This meant turning the RMOW's economic planning towards evidence-based policy, using sound information and analysis and sharing information between the stakeholders and with the public.

"We can't afford not to do this. The economic climate, the competitive resort climate, our competition in the west and around the world means staying vigilant in terms of economic planning. We had a great winter last year, followed by the best summer on record. This year, (has) started out really well, but at the same time the world is changing," Furey added.

The RMOW was able to share with its fellow EPI members that the population of Whistler, at just less than 10,000 people, provided infrastructure and service to support 26,000 people, with implications for the tax base. In terms of employment, the equivalent of 12,000 full-time positions existed in 2012, with an unemployment rate of one per cent in 2011, well under the provincial and national levels.

As well, 82 per cent of the workforce or 9,600 people now live in the resort.

Furey also showed the numbers of available room nights compared with actual occupancy rates, with a little over 50 per cent occupancy rates in 2011. He also shared retail data, real estate sales data, lease rates and taxation for business, the latter has decreased over time, said Furey.

Barrett Fisher of Tourism Whistler shared occupancy and visitor data. "We are excited and delighted to be a part of the EPI," she told those gathered.

Fisher said the resort saw one million winter visitors and 1.5 million summer visitors, but the summer visitors were staying for shorter periods. This translates into 623,000 room nights being booked in the winter (with visitors spending $793 million), and 479,000 in the summer (spending $308 million).

In winter, destination travellers make up 59 per cent of visitors to Whistler, with regional visitors making up 41 per cent. In the summer this is reversed, with 45 per cent being destination visitors and 55 per cent being regional visitors.

Fisher was also able to provide historical trends for the resort, noting sustained growth from 1991 to 2001, and more of a rollercoaster since 2001.

RMOW councillor Jayson Faulkner said that the idea of the EPI was to look at the larger context for the resort by considering trends and identifying the gaps in their collective knowledge about the resort.

The analysis project begins in January, and a final report is expected in April 2013. Its total budget is $75,000.

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