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How do we put out our welcome mat?

This coming weekend feels rather like a test. With the beautiful weather we've had this spring, there have been more and more people coming to our community, and many of us here in Whistler and the Sea to Sky have "doubled our bubble," as B.C.
Photo by Justa Jeskova Photography/Tourism Whistler

This coming weekend feels rather like a test.

With the beautiful weather we've had this spring, there have been more and more people coming to our community, and many of us here in Whistler and the Sea to Sky have "doubled our bubble," as B.C.'s chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gave the all-clear to do last week.

Locally, the parks were closed and there were resort "ambassadors" keeping people from lingering in our green spaces last weekend. But that didn't stop people from taking to some of the lakes in inflatables, congregating on shorelines if they could find some, and gathering for driveway parties as they soaked in the sun. None that I observed were in large groups and the groups themselves stayed separated.

There were also visitors wandering in the village and if they were lucky, they might have caught a glimpse of the Fitzsimmons Gondola doing some turns.

There were a few village retailers open and some eateries were set up for take-out as well.

Some drove even further north and we learned that past Mount Currie, an unofficial roadblock was set up and if you weren't a resident of the area, you were asked to turn around.

As I experienced this or read about it on social media, I had mixed emotions.

Whistler is a tourist resort town and we do not have a diversified economy in any real sense. We must have people come here to experience our amazing natural environment for small businesses, hotels, restaurants and all the other community occupations that operate downstream from this driving force to survive.

But inviting and accepting people back here is frightening.

The provincial government has laid out its plans for the reopening of the B.C. economy and it starts this weekend with the opening of many front- and backcountry trails, beaches, picnic areas, washroom facilities and boat launches for day use. On June 1, BC Parks will re-open most provincial campgrounds and backcountry camping.

However, this is not true for nearly every provincial park in our region. They are all closed until further notice and that includes Joffre, Garibaldi, and Duffey Lake parks and more.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler has not announced when it will open its parks, but you can be sure with only Alice Lake in the Sea to Sky open to the public, if we open our community parks and the weather is good, they will be mobbed.

We want to be good neighbours to the Lower Mainland residents and we need our message to visitors to be that we are ready and responsible as we head toward the June 1 opening for hotels and resorts as laid out by Premier John Horgan and Henry last week.

But at the same time there, there is no doubt now that COVID-19 can be spread by people who don't even know they are carrying it and do not display any symptoms of being ill.

If I'm honest, that makes me feel less welcoming.

How then are we going to navigate this as a community? Let's keep in mind that it is very unlikely that there will be international destination travellers coming here this year, conventions here and dancing the night away in a club are also off the table until a vaccine is in place—that could be another year or even longer.

So what is our plan?

Well, for starters, if visitors are going to come here, we need some community-wide rules of behaviour and we need to educate people about them.

We need to make sure we have sanitizing stations or places people can wash their hands, we should encourage people to wear masks and educate them about how to do this effectively, we need to remind people to sanitize their phones at least twice a day and not to put them down on surfaces, while here people must practise physical distancing and we need enforcement of this, and so on.

Could we train a new type of village host, one that can help share these messages in a kind and caring way so that visitors feel welcome, but Whistler also feels we are following best practices in preventing COVID-19?

We have flattened the curve for now and B.C.'s plan for reopening our economy appears cautiously sensible. But we all know a second wave is coming.

Our job is to stay safe, help others be safe, and make sure that as we head toward a post-pandemic time, that our reputation as a welcoming, responsible resort makes us the vacation location of choice.