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Whistler officials eye ‘strategic’ recovery as COVID fatigue sinks in

Whistler Recovery Working Group provides update on business, labour and more
A lonely dog wanders an unnervingly quiet Village Stroll in April 2020. Whistler officials say they are planning for a strategic resort recovery as the pandemic enters its second year.

A full year since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in B.C., the fatigue is very much real in Whistler.

“Everyone in our town, I think, is tired of dealing with COVID,” said Mayor Jack Crompton.

“But I’m buoyed by the response of Whistlerites, even in the face of that COVID exhaustion. When we reached out and said redouble efforts, people have taken it on. That’s inspiring, because it is not easy.”

Case in point: The Resort Municipality of Whistler’s (RMOW) Recovery Working Group—a community collaboration bringing in more than 20 volunteers from across the resort to work towards a common purpose.

“It’s been really amazing to see what we’re able to accomplish as a community just by meeting together and sharing what we’re seeing, where the needs are in the community and how we can support them,” Virginia Cullen, the RMOW’s Chief Administrative Officer told Pique.

The pandemic has had the effect of amplifying some of tomorrow’s issues today, she added—things like mental health and labour shortages among them—and responding to them has required more agility than some may be used to.

“I would call it an emergent process,” Cullen said. “So we’re paying close attention to how things are changing in the community, and watching to see what’s emerging as important, and then paying attention and responding to that.”

That being said, Cullen wants Whistler’s recovery to be strategic rather than reactive.

In a reactive recovery, you run the danger of being too preoccupied with responding to various problems and crises that suddenly you find yourself in an unplanned (and potentially unmanageable) future, she explained.

But a strategic recovery keeps one eye focused on the big picture, steering the resort towards a preferred outcome.

Said another way, if you spend the whole fight on the defensive, constantly blocking and dodging blows, you’re likely to lose by judge’s decision (or worse).

So you’d best make sure you’re throwing some, too.

“Across the community, people have risen to the challenge and worked together, and that’s encouraging,” Crompton said.

“I’m deeply grateful for people’s willingness to work on behalf of our community when they have so much going on taking care of their families and businesses as it is.”


Four members of the Recovery Working Group were onhand for the Feb 2. Committee of the Whole meeting to provide updates, each representing a different sub-group: Jackie Dickinson (community well-being); James Retty (local business survival); Joel Chevalier (labour market) and Dave Clark (tourism sustainability).

The immense need seen at the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) and its food bank at the outset of the pandemic never really went away—and like the pandemic itself, it has come in waves, said Dickinson, WCSS’ executive director.

“We are on track to serve just as much food in the next four weeks as we did in April, except in a different way, in a different format,” she said.

“Because we don’t need a conference centre anymore, we need delivery trucks, and lots of them.”

As COVID cases have exploded in Whistler, WCSS has shifted much of its food bank efforts to delivering to those who are self-isolating.

“Our need now is the same, [but] it looks different, and it’s established itself differently in our community,” Dickinson said.

“And as always, our staff is very privileged and very grateful to do this work, and it continues to be a sign of strength in our community, but we need to communicate the urgency of the type of need that’s being impacted through COVID-19 in Whistler now.”

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Many of Whistler’s entrepreneurs saw disastrous losses in 2020, and were left to sort through an avalanche of confusing relief programs while trying desperately just to keep their doors open and their staff healthy.

The result was a group that was difficult to fully engage, said Escape Route’s James Retty.

“On the business survival side of things, it has been extremely challenging,” Retty said.

“Local businesses, most of them are smaller in their scope, and you’ve got people who have a lot of skin in the game. They’re paying mortgages and putting their kids through school, and they have a deep connection to the community … but I have to say that there were so many pull-points on this challenged group over the fall, that it was very hard for us to pull together.”

Business owners have had to contend with bullish landlords, unpredictable supply lines, drastic income losses and challenges with staffing—not to mention their own mental health.

Support and guidance from the RMOW and Whistler Chamber of Commerce was “crucial for a lot of people,” Retty added—but the challenges persist.

While in any normal year, February, March and April start to get stronger, business-wise, “we don’t know what’s going on this year,” Retty said.

“But those sources of support that were presented by the Chamber, in this case, were well-received, and I know a lot of people, including artists, did take advantage.”


While Whistler has struggled with staffing for years, the pandemic added new wrinkles to the plot.

“For the first time in many years, Whistler businesses were struggling with an inability to predict how busy or not busy they would be, and in turn how many staff they would need or not need,” said Joel Chevalier, HR professional and founder of Culinary Recruitment International.

While an absence of international labour from Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand—typically Whistler’s bread and butter—was largely filled by a surge in applicants from Quebec and Ontario, those applicants were mostly directed at the resort’s larger employers, Chevalier said.

“So the problem that we focused on was less about recruitment, which is usually the case with dealing with the labour market, and more of a utilization of available applicants,” he said,

“Larger employers such as the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and the Westin Resort and Spa that were seeing a huge amount of applications, we were able to have those employers redirect the applicants that they didn’t need anymore to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce job board, as well as the go2HR job board out of Vancouver.” 

Anecdotally the system has been a success, with many smaller employers seeing an uptake in applications after it was put in place, Chevalier said.

“Although this was designed to be a short-term, quick-to-implement solution, this tool has the capacity to be a legacy tool for the community beyond the pandemic recovery period, given that we know if we can get back to some semblance of normal we’re still going to need to work to fill these roles that are so crucial to visitation in Whistler,” he said.


If Retty’s group is the CPR of Whistler’s recovery, Dave Clark, founder and race director of the Whistler Half Marathon, sees his group as the physiotherapy.

Whereas the other groups have mostly been focused on the here and now, “we’re looking at this opportunity, of the pandemic, to realign how Whistler is presented, and what we can do to be smarter going forward,” Clark said.

“We are very interested in diving deeper into being a source of direction, I maybe would say, in helping future business or tourism experiences be authentic, be something that is additive to our community versus taking away from.”

To that end, one initiative being planned by the group is a “Tourism Diversity Lab” that will encourage and enable local talent and ideas that support mountain culture and tourism.

In the present, the lab could assist businesses with everything from shifting online to connecting them with resources, Clark said as an example.

Further down the road, it could consider ways to grow Whistler’s tourism economy that are sustainable, additive to the community and reflective of the local mountain culture.

Watch the full Feb. 2 Committee of the Whole presentation at