Youth ski race spins off millions in resort economy 

Whistler Cup one of six events studied in 2013, RMOW releases results

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE - A winning event The Whistler Cup, a three-day youth international ski race, generated $2.4 million in economic activity in Whistler in 2013.
  • Photo by Clare Ogilvie
  • A winning event The Whistler Cup, a three-day youth international ski race, generated $2.4 million in economic activity in Whistler in 2013.

It may not have the same marketing panache as some of the resort's high-profile events, but the Whistler Cup can more than hold its own when it comes its economic punch in Whistler, according to a just-released economic impact assessment report (EIA).

The study found that last year the three-day international juvenile ski race, a mainstay in the resort these past 20 years, resulted in $4.4 million in economic activity in B.C. with $2.4 million of that taking place in Whistler.

That's more than the economic spinoff for last year's Wanderlust yoga festival ($3.6 million in B.C.), and last year's Whistler Children's Festival ($1.1 million in B.C.). It's also more than the Cornucopia event in 2011 ($4 million in B.C.).

Unlike a host of other festivals and events, however, which reaped the rewards of public funding through the Festivals, Events & Animation (FE&A) program last year, the Whistler Cup did it all without a municipal cheque.

"I think (the EIA) was very important to validate the event to the municipality, so I thought it was great," said volunteer chair of the Whistler Cup Wayne Holm, of the first-ever detailed economic report of the event.

He was quick to add, however, that though the municipality hasn't given the event FE&A funds it has offered other kinds of support for the volunteer-run organization, such as displaying banners for the event and stage support, as well as facilitating the parade through the village.

"We get great support as is, so I think this, to me, is validation of the support that's already given," Holm said.

The numbers come after in-depth analysis of several handpicked events, adding more insight into the growing role of the festival and events business on Whistler's economy, as well as the growing importance of the municipality's multi-million dollar FE&A program.

As part of an ongoing Pique investigation, sparked by the 10 EIAs originally commissioned by the municipality last year, all 2013 high-level economic impact numbers have now been recently released. Four reports were dropped from the initial list, leaving six EIA's in 2013 — the most ever done in Whistler in one year.

"We wanted to collect as much information as we could," explained municipal Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey, of the move to commission the EIA's. "They do provide important economic information for us. At the same time, they're really one component in a whole array of components that informs our overall events strategy."

That strategy comes through the FE&A budget, which last year was $2.84 million with $2.39 million going to programming, the highest portion of which was the so-called "augmentation" investment in third-party events at $922,000.

In 2014 the FE&A budget is growing to $3.16 million (see related story on page 12).

The divvying up of the funding to various events has become a source of contention in Whistler, with some events getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds, and others getting nothing. The breakdown is decided upon by the FE&A Working Group, then refined by the working group's executive committee made up of Tourism Whistler, the Whistler Arts Council and RMOW staff.

The EIA reports are just one factor in the decision-making.

"There's a much more complex set of considerations in terms of how we develop the overall events strategy year round," explained Furey, adding that it depends on such things as the amount of funds available, and the long-term strategies and objectives of the resort.

For example, the municipality is investing $290,000 in RMI money, more than given to any other festival, into May-long-weekend programming this year, to deal with the long-standing hooliganism problems.

"We'd be interested, obviously, in generating more economic activity, but at the same time, there are other factors and influences that go with the decision to put the May 24 festival in place," said Furey.

Another major consideration is the time of year of each festival.

Whistler Cup typically takes place during the ski season in early April unlike an event like Cornucopia, which takes place in November's shoulder season.

"If you were to remove Cornucopia, you would probably see a negative impact as a direct relation to the economic impact because there's nothing else happening," said Louise Walker, vice president of marketing and strategic planning for Tourism Whistler.

"Whereas, if you were to remove an event that's in peak summer or peak winter, it doesn't have the same direct impact because there's other reasons to come to Whistler."

The EIA reports also serve to bolster the municipality's case for RMI funds from the province, which come as a portion of hotel tax collected in Whistler.

"The FE&A program is funded solely through the RMI funds and annually we report out to the province," said Jan Jansen, the municipality's general manager of resort experience. "So it's important information that we can share with the province to show that, in fact, there is a positive impact that these investments have."

Jansen added: "We're able to demonstrate that investments in third-party-produced events in fact have a significant ROI (Return On Investment) on those RMI investments and that's of course of great interest to the province."

Ironman, for example, received $250,000 in RMI funds in 2013. The event resulted in $17.3 million in economic activity in B.C., with $8.4 million taking place in Whistler.

On the other hand, WinterPRIDE, Whistler's annual gay ski week, did not get any funding from the RMI pot. It resulted in $9 million in economic activity in B.C., with $4.8 million of that taking place in Whistler.

"It's not... quite down to a science yet," said Furey. "I think it's more of an art, that I think we've been pretty good at... If you look at the overall outcome of the strategies we employed, the evidence is in last summer's (success) — (it was) the best summer on record. We don't take credit for that by any stretch at all. I think a lot of credit should be given to the long stretches of sunshine we had, but certainly we think we made a positive contribution towards the success last summer."

The municipality had also originally planned to do EIA reports on the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the new 10-day Cornucopia, Crankworx and the Luge World Championships. Those were never done.

No EIA's will be done in 2014.

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