Editorial 

The first step to recovery: recognizing there’s a problem

Assume for a moment that Whistler could build an airport big enough to handle 737s, that the airport used geo-thermal heating and electricity generated by a run-of-river micro-hydro project. Pretend that the airport was also within 15 minutes of the village and representatives from every property management company in Whistler picked up their clients at the airport in hydrogen-powered vehicles and personally checked them in during the short drive directly to their hotel. All passengers would pay an airport-landing fee, which would be a new source of revenue for the municipality. This airport also includes employee housing and a London Drugs. Now, wouldn’t all our problems be solved? What would we have to gripe about?

Of course this airport isn’t on the horizon, nor is any other dreamed-about mega-project going to solve all of Whistler’s woes. The truth is Whistler is or will be a beneficiary of several large projects funded by senior levels of government in the next few years – the $600 million Highway 99 upgrade, the $105 million Nordic centre, 300 acres of Crown land, an athletes village, funding for a new arena, $2 million for seismic upgrades to a 13-year-old school, to name but a few. Whistler is also included in the province’s plans for a hydrogen highway. And the provincial government, which has placed a lot of eggs in the tourism basket, announced last fall it was doubling the marketing budget for Tourism B.C.

Others are also investing in services that will benefit Whistler. Rocky Mountaineer Vacations’ new passenger rail service to Whistler will commence in about 14 months. Capilano College this week announced a new destination resort management program.

None of this will bring immediate relief to Whistler businesses that are struggling through this most frustrating of winters. But the point is a lot of money and effort are being put into projects that should make Whistler better, more diversified and more successful in the years ahead. What we need to do is look within for solutions to our immediate problems, rather than for assistance from someone else.

One of the leaders by example this winter has been Whistler-Blackcomb. From long-time Whistler skiers to destination visitors the praise for Whistler-Blackcomb’s snow-farming efforts this winter has been unanimous. The work that has gone into making, grooming and moving snow around the two mountains to provide decent skiing in trying conditions has impressed everyone.

Keeping both mountains open, and staff employed, all winter has been an investment: probably not the cheapest option for Whistler-Blackcomb, but it sends a far better message to visitors, residents and local businesses than closing one mountain or cutting costs in a winter when skier numbers and revenue are not meeting projections.

At the end of this winter – whenever that may be – Whistler-Blackcomb will undoubtedly review the numbers, its performance, where it can improve, and then hope like hell we don’t have another winter like this for many years to come. All of Whistler should do the same. Rather than worrying about what we don’t have we should be reviewing pricing, target markets, marketing strategies, value, service – all the buzz-words – and seeing how we can improve, individually and collectively.

When the numbers are finally in the winter of 2004-05 will likely prove to be the fourth-straight winter of disappointing, if not declining, figures for Whistler. There have been all kinds of unexpected events and factors that have contributed to this downward-sloping graph, and there will be unexpected hurdles in the years ahead. But it is time to recognize that not all our problems are external or beyond our control. The first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem.

The next step is getting everyone to buy into finding solutions – landlords, the accommodation sector, retailers, tour operators, Tourism Whistler, the municipality and Whistler-Blackcomb. That’s not as easy as it used to be, in part because Whistler is bigger and has more diverse interests than it once did. But it may also be, in part, a generational problem.

When Whistler started to market itself as a destination resort in the 1980s it was a much smaller town but everyone understood and believed in the plan. That common understanding helped get Whistler through the brutal recession of the 1980s. Then, from the late ’80s to 2000 the lines on the graphs climbed steadily as Whistler grew.

Today many of the people who were involved in Whistler’s early days have moved on. The knowledge, understanding and first-hand experience that Whistler prospers or slides as a collective whole has been lost or forgotten by some. Many of the current population and businesses came of age in Whistler when the numbers were all pointing up; we have never known down and have been slow to grasp the concept.

It’s time for everyone to look within.

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