Whistler's first order of business


Tourism Whistler, whose primary responsibility is marketing and promoting Whistler to the rest of the world, holds its 2007 annual general meeting today. It’s probably not a date too many people have marked on the calendar. It doesn’t hold the drama and intrigue that comes with some municipal elections. There isn’t the excitement and partying associated with the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. And there certainly isn’t the sense of anticipation built into opening day of the ski season.

  Many of us only seem to pay attention to Tourism Whistler when we have something to complain about, such as when Tourism Whistler fees are due or there aren’t enough tourists coming into our stores. But we should be paying more attention. Tourism Whistler’s role is arguably more important to the success of the resort, and thus the sustainability of every job in town, than is municipal hall’s.

Tourism Whistler, like all of us, is not without its faults. You can make your own list. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that TW operates with a smaller budget than most of its competitors, such as the marketing machines at Vail, Aspen and any number of cruise ship lines and warm weather resorts. And operating in Canada, Tourism Whistler has fewer potential corporate partners to choose from than do American resorts.

There likely won’t be any new revelations at today’s Tourism Whistler AGM. There will be congratulations on a good winter and a good summer last year. The economy remains strong and the trends are positive in the lead up to 2010. All good stuff, for which we should be appreciative.

But it should be kept in mind that despite the strong economy, despite the boost up the global awareness index that Whistler, Vancouver and British Columbia will get with the 2010 Olympics, and despite the provincial government’s efforts to double the size of the tourism business by 2015, there are a lot of signs that suggest this is not a great time to be in the tourism trade.

We all know the trail of disasters that affected tourism starting on Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attack airline travel was, for some time, something that many people avoided. This, plus the increased cost and difficulty of travel that came with new security measures, forced several airlines around the world to close up shop. That was followed by concerns in Canada over SARS and then avian flu. The rise in the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar also took its toll on tourism.

In the nearly six years since 9/11 the tourism business has taken on and more or less overcome these problems. In Whistler, which up until 2000-01 had enjoyed nearly 15 years of steady economic growth, the post-9/11 slump prompted some much-needed reflection. Prices, and attitudes, were adjusted where needed. Some operations became leaner. Service and value have been emphasized. And combined with good snow and decent summer weather, Whistler has bounced back.

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