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Tourism Whistler contracts out central reservations to Intrawest

After 18 months of research Tourism Whistler has decided to out source its central reservations to Intrawest’s Resort Reservations Network.

After 18 months of research Tourism Whistler has decided to out source its central reservations to Intrawest’s Resort Reservations Network.

"Our ultimate goal is that this will be a 100 per cent successful partnership that will only continue to grow the business for the resort," said Barrett Fisher, vice president marketing strategy and business development for Tourism Whistler.

"They have the Whistler expertise and they have the Whistler track record. We are talking about a tried and true proven company that knows the Whistler product that has seen exponential growth over the last several years."

Over the last year Tourism Whistler explored several options for its central reservations after it became clear it needed new technology and a more reliable labour pool.

At one point it had considered moving the call centre to Vancouver but that still meant it had to purchase technology.

That technology was estimated to cost up to $5 million, although some in the field estimated it may have cost twice that much.

"It did not make sense," said Fisher.

"We would have had to have done one of three things. We would have had to increase our member assessments, increased our commission rate and/or reduced our marketing program."

Tourism Whistler investigated five companies as they searched for a solution.

It found that RezRez, as Resort Reservations is known, alone could provide not only technology that met and exceeded its needs, but also a large call centre.

And, said Fisher, by working together marketing duplication could be avoided.

But some in the community have voiced concerns that the resort is turning into a company town.

In July Tourism Whistler announced that it was partnering with Intrawest to take advantage of their golf expertise for the Whistler Golf Course. Now it is central reservations.

"I believe this is a community which values economic diversity and the strong contribution of the local independent businessman," said Gord McKeever of Rainbow Retreats.

"I am very concerned about this decision."

McKeever also recognizes RezRez’s strong performance history and hopes it will benefit reservations.

He is however, concerned about a resort accommodation provider being involved at this level.

"To have a stakeholder in the reservation inventory also manage the reservation, well the potential is there for abuse," he said.

But Fisher believes there is little risk of Whistler becoming a one-horse town.

"From the perspective of being a monopoly that is just not the case," she said.

"Even when you look at combining the reservations of RezRez with the reservations of Tourism Whistler it still only equates to 20 per cent of reservations for the resort.

"Eighty per cent of the reservations are still coming through travel agencies, tour operators, meeting planners, Tourism BC call centre,, hotels, and so on.

"I think the second point to be made... is that those decisions were made completely in isolation and they were made on a competitive bid level.

"So when the golf bid went out it went out to five properties looking at golf expertise and looking at industry standards… and similarly with RezRez.

"In both cases the decisions were made independently and those two companies had the greatest expertise."

RezRez will start its new operation for Tourism Whistler Sept. 1. The first year will be on a trial basis, said Fisher.

If it is deemed a success the contract will continue for another four years.

RezRez has agreed to pay Tourism Whistler the equivalent or more than they were earning when Tourism Whistler ran central reservations themselves.

When Tourism Whistler first announced that it would be moving its call centre to Vancouver many were worried that it would remove the personal touch local agents gave to each call. The same concerns are being raised again as the call centre moves to RezRez’s North Vancouver location.

"In terms of just the ability to make bookings it is undeniable that RezRez is successful at it," said McKeever.

"However, in terms of product differentiation when you go with a remote call centre I do have a big concern that we have to stand out.

"When someone says ‘how is the snow?’ and the person on the phone says ‘I’ve never been to Whistler,’ that to me is unfortunate."

But that is unlikely to happen said Stan Sprenger, CEO and vice president of RezRez.

"I think with technology and all the information we had we are not running into that challenge, at least our sales haven’t shown that over that last years," he said.

Today technology can put Web-cams, minute by minute weather forecasts and other information at the fingertips of every booking agent. And all agents will receive the same training as those who worked for central reservations for Tourism Whistler.

"I first thought that might be an issue but their staff pick it up quickly," said Patrick McCurdy of Whistler Chalets.

"We have worked with RezRez for the last four years at least and they have done a professional job of marketing and offering Whistler through their staff."

What McCurdy will miss is walking over to Whistler’s central reservations to say hello and thanks for the bookings, a casualty of growing into a large sophisticated resort.