Whistler's brighter economic future in 60 steps 

Draft EPI report goes public with action items and costs

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALISON TAYLOR - Big Moment Municipal chief operating officer Mike Furey and Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at the presentation of the Economic Partnership Initiative plan.
  • Photo by Alison Taylor
  • Big Moment Municipal chief operating officer Mike Furey and Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at the presentation of the Economic Partnership Initiative plan.

To keep Whistler at the top of the tourism game, council is considering 60 action items designed to help the resort community thrive and stay prosperous into the future.

Almost $6 million has been earmarked from the 2014 provincial tourism funding (Resort Municipality Initiative — RMI funding) to get the ball rolling. Other funds will flow from the municipal budget next year.

Yet, after a half-hour presentation from municipal Chief Operating Officer Mike Furey, outlining the extensive work from resort stakeholders on the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) committee over the past year, council offered no feedback, no public discussion of the actions, nor the cost associated with them at this week's council meeting.

"We did review this extensively at the retreat last week," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, after Furey wrapped up his presentation.

The silence was somewhat anti-climactic after the teaser last week, which saw the 55-page report kept under wraps until the council meeting, rather than made public with the rest of the council package.

Despite the silence at the council table, the 60 actions speak for themselves.

More money than ever before — $3.16 million — will go to the municipality's festivals, events and animation (FE&A) program (see related story omn page 13).

After festivals and events, the biggest single spend is $1.5 million to implement select projects to upgrade tourist amenities and improve guest experience as part of the village enhancement project — Whistler 3.0. That includes improving the retail experience, looking at business regulation bylaws and improving way-finding.

Wilhelm-Morden spoke of this after the meeting when asked what recommendations stood out in her mind.

"The significant focus on investment on refurbishing the village is very important," she said. "We heard time and again from the various sectors who came to present to us that the village was just so important and the appearance of the village... was critical, so I'm really happy to see that."

A further $150,000 has be allocated to update the Whistler Welcome Strategy, that includes investing in an enhanced gateway feature to improve the "sense of arrival" to the resort community and looking at the potential for a welcome centre at the south end of town.

"We felt that in order to make these actions a reality we had to allocate funds... towards them to get some traction on the ground," said Furey, speaking in a media briefing before his presentation to council Tuesday evening.

Other resort partners, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Whistler, will take the lead in some of the recommendations, as they develop their 2014 business plans.

EPI committee members were more forthcoming as they waited in the lobby for the council meeting to begin.

"I think there's quite a breadth of initiatives that include the potential for some really big picture opportunities while simultaneously ensuring that we invest in existing opportunities that need reinvestment," said Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher. "The majority of them meet the needs of all the players at the table who felt that we needed to make an injection into Whistler's economy to ensure that we continue to be competitive."

The EPI work included extensive research about the resorts' economic drivers.

"Yes, it's been a lot of hard work and it's nice to get it ultimately out in front of the public," said Whistler Blackcomb CEO and president Dave Brownlie. "Now it's about staying focused and executing."

"When you really get into it and understand those drivers of the resort it becomes very clear where we're going to get the big wins."

With those drivers now in black and white, everyone can see what really makes Whistler tick, he said; they can see the importance of the destination visitor, they can see the importance of Whistler to other levels of government, they can see where guests spend their money when in town.

"What I hope to see is, with a clear understanding of people within the community on how to drive the economy and where to add value, I think that will bring alignment to new opportunities and new projects as they're brought to the table," said Brownlie.

Other key recommendations include:

• $40,000 in RMI funds to develop a business plan for the potential expansion of the Whistler Conference Centre to expand group and conference business;

• a further $150,000 will be considered from the municipal budget in 2014 that would be transferred to Tourism Whistler to develop detailed criteria for identifying appropriate opportunities for investing local in-kind resources as a tool to increase our ability to attract resort-wide conference business;

• $5,000 and potentially more from other partners to develop a Poor Weather Risk Mitigation Plan;

• review and consider opportunities for expanded weather independent attractions;

• appoint an economic development officer;

• actively work toward the provision of commercial air service to the region.

"It's a living document that will continue to evolve over time," added Furey.

To read the full list of recommendations go to www.whistler.ca.



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