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Room for more competition

Latest Garibaldi at Squamish Inc. report says the project meets provincial tourism goals, won’t threaten neighboring resorts

Proponents of the Garibaldi at Squamish project released their second report in two weeks, this one stating the proposed resort will help the province meet its goal to double tourism revenues by 2015.

Last week, Garibaldi at Squamish Inc. released a resort competitive analysis, which was compiled by an American consulting company, SE Group. The 39-page report concludes that, contrary to concerns raised by some that the resort could “potentially impact skier visitation at competing ski facilities,” there will be a need for additional ski resorts in the province, in order to accommodate projected growth in skier visits.

The report states that resorts and ski areas currently contribute $4 billion of the $9 billion in provincial tourism revenue. The government hopes to double that figure by 2015.

The report also projects the annual rate of skier visits will rise from about six million in 2007 to an estimated 10.1 million by 2015. To cope with this expected growth, “ski resorts in British Columbia will have to absorb these additional skier visits or additional capacity (roughly two ski resorts the size of Whistler) is required to meet this demand.”

In August, the Resort Municipality of Whistler registered concerns about the impact the Garibaldi at Squamish project could have on Whistler, specifically citing the fact that already “challenged” occupancy rates could further suffer.

In a letter to the environmental assessment office, the RMOW argued the province should focus on bringing visitors to existing resorts in B.C., rather than encouraging new developments.

“Simply put, there is no proven economic need for another resort in the corridor at present. If the B.C. government is serious about doubling tourism spending by 2015 and becoming an example of green development, we respectfully suggest that efforts should be focused on improving occupancy levels in already existing resort accommodation throughout B.C.,” the letter stated.

Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations at Whistler-Blackcomb, is a bit skeptical of the 10.1 million skier visits figure put forth in the SE Group’s report.

“I think that it will be a challenge to see that happen, but there are some things that cause me to be a little cautious on that,” said Forseth, citing recent flat trends in the North American ski industry.

Forseth says he is pleased with the province’s 2015 tourism initiatives, but increasing revenue goals doesn’t necessarily mean all businesses should be doubling in size.

While Whistler’s maximum theoretical daily capacity is 30,000 skiers, Forseth said their biggest day ever has been about 27,000, and on many days, they are operating well below capacity.

“I notice that this report talks about taking some of the pressure off of the weekend and holiday periods here in Whistler. Well, that’s fine, but then we’ve got a lot of other days — far more than those collective days that we’re all going to be working a little bit harder to do something with.”

Forseth also points out that the baby boomer generation probably won’t help boost skier numbers, as most people tend to ski less as they get older, but that doesn’t mean the industry can’t grow. Rather, Forseth says the focus should be on taking market share from other places in the world, and tapping into new markets.

At the beginning of October, Garibaldi at Squamish Inc. also released an updated socioeconomic study, examining potential economic and social impacts the proposed resort could have on Squamish.

While Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland says he hasn’t had a chance to review either report in detail, he believes the proponent’s recent efforts to inform the public are a positive step forward.

“It’s certainly encouraging that they, I think, have taken the message from the EA office seriously and have dealt with issues.”

He says in the past there has been a lot of frustration over the proponent’s lack of response to issues, so it’s promising that stakeholders are starting to communicate.

He also acknowledges there are still many questions to be answered through the assessment process, but says he has always envisioned the Garibaldi at Squamish project as benefiting the corridor and province.

“We never saw it as being something that was meant to steal business away from Whistler, we always saw it as something that would complement what was going on in the entire corridor.”