Too many fingers in the pie

By Loreth Beswetherick

It’s bad enough when roommates fall afoul of each other, but when hundreds of owners and a multitude of property managers can’t agree on how to run one condominium hotel, the fall-out can be ugly and the consequences far-reaching.

It’s happening at The Aspens, where a battle for control of the front desk has spilled over into B.C.’s Superior Court. And it has got personal: There are allegations of fraud, collusion, misappropriated funds, kickbacks, secret meetings, altered minutes and even mental instability. Everyone is digging heels in and it looks like only a judge can now decide a winner.

But no matter who is victorious in court, no one wins this kind of battle — not the owners, not the rental management sector, not realtors and definitely not the guest who is taken hostage in the skirmish.

The loser is Whistler.

That’s because this problem is not peculiar to The Aspens. Similar scenes have played out — or are playing out — at condo hotels including the Marquise, the Woodrun and Glacier Lodge.

The problem with some of the older hotels is that ownership of the front desk portion of the property was retained by the original developer who then leased it to one rental management company. The strata owners may or may not want that company running its front desk but they have little control. The power lies with a rental manager who represents only a portion of the owners.

A front desk should be common property for the good of all the strata members. The owners need to be in a position to determine who gets the rental management contract for their hotel and they need to be in a position to call that company to task on performance. As long as one rental manager holds the hammer, there is likely to be conflict.

Even so, getting 75 per cent of the owners to agree on one company to run their stratified property is another matter.

No one predicted the rise of the small rental manager in Whistler. There is now a plethora of companies, all offering varying degrees of service. On the one end, the small guys are selling personalized attention, cheaper rates and higher returns. On the other end, the big guns tout huge marketing muscle, experience and financial security.

In a hotel with more than 200 owners, there are many different needs. It’s a recipe for conflict.

But, as one realtor has pointed out, the owners must also remember they are a hotel and the property needs to be run like a hotel. It’s what the guest expects.

Rob O’Neill, co-owner and chairman of the biggest show in town — the Whistler Lodging Company (ex-Powder Resort Properties) — feels market forces to some extent will decide the issue. He points out that the small guys have been riding the Whistler wave for the last three years. They have set up shop with minimal infrastructure and, using the Internet, cashed in on marketing being done by Tourism Whistler and the large companies like Whistler Lodging.

But this winter, says O’Neill, the tide went out and Tourism Whistler was not able to deliver like it used to. The result will be consolidation in the rental management industry. He says it is happening already.

A rating system for the companies, as suggested by Tourism Whistler, could help. At least the guest would know what to expect for his $290 room.

O’Neill says it is also important for Tourism Whistler to recognize the marketing efforts of the bigger companies — those with hundreds of beds to fill. He suggests that the larger a company’s marketing budget, the more bookings they should get through Tourism Whistler’s central reservations system. He said the resort association is considering such a priority system.

That favouritism, however, is not likely to sit well with the smaller businesses and with those Tourism Whistler members who rent out their suites themselves. Everyone, after all, pays resort association fees for Whistler’s marketing efforts.

The municipality is taking some steps to rectify the situation.

In the newer hotels, like Lost Lake Lodge and the yet-to-be-built First Tracks and Four Seasons, covenants now stipulate there can only be one rental manager.

Redressing the problem in the older properties, however, is more of a challenge. But if battles are left to be waged in court, the only winners will be the lawyers.

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