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As fall approaches, ‘survival’ of business community a concern

Resort partners eye scaled-back fest experiences to bolster shoulder months
biz update
With large crowds like those typically found at the popular Whistler Village Beer Festival out of the question this year, resort partners are hoping smaller versions of annual events can help drive fall visitation. Photo by Abby Cooper

While crowds have returned to Whistler throughout Phase 3 of B.C.’s COVID-19 reopening, providing a minor reprieve to entrepreneurs, local leaders know that the coming months are key.

“To be frank, we’re very concerned with the business community surviving through the fall,” said Tourism Whistler (TW) president and CEO Barrett Fisher.

“Whistler is fortunate that we have some strengths in visitation in the summer, we anticipate that we’ll see some strength in the winter, but the months between summer and winter, they stretch out.

“It will be a long fall, and so we need to ensure that we find opportunities and solutions to help the economic viability of our business community and to make sure that they survive through this year.”

To that end, local officials are considering how best to entice visitation once the summer wraps up, including re-envisioning some perennial favourite festivals as more scaled-back affairs.

Tourism Whistler will be meeting with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and its Festivals, Events and Animation team in the coming weeks to discuss what might be possible in the fall, Fisher said.

In the meantime, the destination marketing organization is moving ahead with plans for annual food and drink fest Cornucopia (which it owns), she said.

“We are looking at some small food and wine seminars, eliminating the large scale of Crush, and then still working with the restaurant community on some winemaker dinners, and making sure that these are all limited to under 50 people,” Fisher said.

“So we’re looking at small-scale experiences that are a bit more intimate, that support the proper protocols, that have their own separate access and egress, to ensure the safety of our guests.”

Other fall initiatives under consideration include more Art Walks on Fridays during the shoulder months, and hosting small educational groups at the Whistler Conference Centre.

TW will soon expand its marketing from B.C. to Alberta, with a focus on core Whistler experiences like hiking, biking, golf and adventure tourism, as well as arts and culture, dining, wellness and shopping, Fisher said, adding that TW will continue to follow directives from health authorities as it relates to COVID-19.

“Safety comes first, and so if for any reason things change and things have to be shut down, we will ultimately work with the health authorities to take their direction, since they are the experts. Full stop,” Fisher said.

“But in this environment, we have to be agile and flexible to be able to promote what we can, and then continue to follow the health directives.”

 

WHISTLER VILLAGE BEER FEST CANCELS MAIN EVENT

Concern over fall visitation has been heard at Gibbons Whistler as well, said manager of marketing and communications Brittia Thompson, prompting the company to soldier ahead with its Whistler Village Beer Festival—again, in a scaled-back form.

“A lot of business owners have expressed that there’s major concern about it just going super quiet come September, so we want to try and encourage people to visit in some manner,” Thompson said.

“We’re just figuring out what that looks like.”

What’s known for sure at this point is that the festival’s main event—the two-day beer-tasting extravaganza in Olympic Plaza—will not go ahead as planned.

Instead, organizers plan to host peripheral programming at venues throughout the village from Sept. 12 to 20, Thompson said.

While it won’t be made official until Aug. 31, the lineup will likely include similar offerings to past years, including tap takeovers by different breweries, brewmaster dinners, beer and food pairings, and more.

“That weekend, a lot of guests have already booked hotels up here [and] it’s a driving factor in the shoulder season to help with business, so we want to encourage people to visit in a safe and respectful way,” Thompson said, adding that all 2020 WVBF main event tickets will be transferred to 2021, and refunds will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“But we hope that everyone keeps ahold of their ticket and returns for 2021, because it’s going to be good,” she said.

“I think people are going to be itching for a festival of some sort.”

Find the latest at gibbonswhistler.com/festivals-events/whistler-village-beer-festival.

 

SECTOR SPECIFIC

While it’s been a busy few weekends in Whistler Village, different sectors are saying different things, according to Whistler Chamber CEO Melissa Pace.

“It really varies from business to business,” Pace said.

“In July, what I heard was businesses were doing really well, better than they had anticipated. Moving into August, they’re feeling like the revenue that they’re generating is decreasing slightly.”

And for every bike shop that has seen a bump in sales due to more people wanting to venture outside, there’s a restaurateur handcuffed by a small floor plan with a single access and egress point, or an adventure company lacking in labour.

“Some people are saying they’re doing well, but what’s happening is some money is being left on the table due to the lack of labour,” Pace said.

“And so even with the ability to fill their spaces, they sometimes can’t do it because they don’t have the staff to fill the positions that are needed to service the amount of business that they are getting, so that’s a bit of a problem.”

At this point there is no short-term answer to the labour question, Pace said, and a shroud of uncertainty around the tourism industry in general.

“Once we’ve had the August long weekend, the businesses are starting to talk about, ‘OK what’s next?’” she said.

“And so that’s really where our focus is now, is how to continue to support our business community into the fall, and continue to talk to our MP, our MLA, and ministries, to find ways to support this community.”

 

COVID COMPLIANCE

Mayor Jack Crompton again spent much of his weekend in Whistler Village, and was encouraged to see even more uptake on COVID-19 safety protocols.

“I saw more masks, I saw more space. The biggest change I saw was that the vast majority of businesses in our community are now having their staff wear masks,” he said.

“If you have a village business in which your staff are still not wearing masks, please consider that change.”

The RMOW has been promoting a unified set of COVID-19 precautions for businesses in an effort to make things easier for guests, and handing out window stickers to those who meet requirements.

Officials have handed out a lot of the stickers in the past two weeks, Crompton said, though the municipality doesn’t have specific numbers just yet.

As for Festivals, Events and Animation, the focus will be on smaller groups, the mayor said.

“The direction that we’re receiving from [provincial health officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry and Vancouver Coastal Health is that one of the biggest challenges we face is larger groups of people, so our goal is to keep people in smaller groups of people that they know well,” he said.

“We will need to be extremely creative in delivering something that keeps groups small, while providing a compelling, enjoyable experience.”



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