Central reservations not moving to Vancouver yet 

Tourism Whistler is rethinking its plans to move the central reservation system to Vancouver.

On Sept. 11 Tourism Whistler announced the move, saying it was part of "a comprehensive business strategy to better serve Whistler customers and members."

But this week director of business operations for Tourism Whistler Diane Mombourquette said: "There is a chance it won’t happen."

Whether the move takes place depends on the feedback Tourism Whistler receives from a call centre consultant recently hired to study the plan and investigate the situation in Vancouver.

If research shows it is not the right move, said Mombourquette, the plan would be abandoned.

While many in the community believe there is a good business rational for the move, few believe taking Tourism Whistler booking agents out of town is a good idea.

"I don’t like this move," said Gordon McKeever, owner and operator of Rainbow Retreats.

"It is just denying the value of the enthusiasm and passion for the place the people who live here have. There will be no passion in this sales team.

"This same call centre could just as easily be selling Vail or other places and the more we look like those other places the less reason people have to be here."

McKeever is not alone in his concerns.

Chamber of Commerce president John Nadeau, while supporting the move from a business point of view fears, "this is one of the things that will change the fabric of the community."

He is concerned the move may be the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to employees not living in the community and therefore being unable to act as ambassadors for Whistler.

Lawyer and municipal councillor Nick Davies said his law firm already handles several complaints a year from visitors who are looking to recover costs after they were allegedly misinformed by Tourism Whistler.

"(Tourism Whistler) might save some dollars on staffing costs and technology efficiency, but they could do tremendous damage if they have a bunch of people there who aren’t familiar with the resort.

"I think that people who phone Tourism Whistler expect the people on the other end of the phone to have at least a minimal amount of knowledge about the resort and know how far hotels are from the lifts and that sort of thing."

Davies’ concerns are not unfounded.

Last year he acted for a client who allegedly booked a hotel through Tourism Whistler on the understanding that it was only a five minute walk from the lifts – an important part of the visitor’s travel arrangements because he was bringing his grandfather and infant child with him.

When the visitor arrived at the hotel, allegedly booked through Tourism Whistler, it was much farther away than he had been told, said Davies.

Tourism Whistler, alleges the visitor, agreed to move him to a hotel closer to the lifts and refund his money.

But, when the visitor approached Tourism Whistler for his refund he alleges he was told there would be no refund, leaving the traveller with an $8,000 bill for his holiday.

"It’s a shame that people are so upset or feel they have been so badly treated that they would actually hire a lawyer while they are here on holiday," said Davies.

He believes there may be even more complaints with central reservations moving to Vancouver and that the resort should consider hiring an Ombudsman to arbitrate complaints.

"I think there is a real clear need here for some sort of Ombudsman to deal with these types of issues," said Davies.

But Tourism Whistler’s Mombourquette, was adamant that the 20-25 phone operators in central reservations would know the resort inside and out if the move went ahead.

"They will not be on the phones if they don’t know," she said.

"We will have a strategy for ensuring that all of our agents are very familiar with the Whistler product and make frequent visits up here to experience the product and really understand what they are selling."

Mombourquette stressed that tourism businesses all over the world locate reservation centres in places other than the resorts they book for.

In Whistler’s case the decision to move would be based on a number of factors, including access to a steady supply of staff and better technology at a lower price.

"We can tap into a broader staffing pool in Vancouver," said Mombourquette. "There are people in Vancouver who are in the call centre industry and they love it and they are trained and they are very good."

Tourism Whistler also believes the move would free up locals to work in other businesses, helping the staff shortage.

No staff member would lose their job in the transition, which would take a year to complete. For this season reservation agents would work in both Whistler and Vancouver.

Some of the long time employees would even travel to Vancouver to work in the new call centre there said Mombourquette.

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