History teaches us to look ahead


If the Canada Day weekend didn’t fill tourism officials’ hearts with glee, and merchants’ coffers with lucre, maybe they’re in the wrong business.

From Friday evening’s ArtWalk opening reception, through the Red Bull Elevation BMX event and the outdoor concert, the long weekend was packed with activities and people. The weather co-operated, for most of the weekend, and people were generally well behaved. Drivers went with the flow and the highway remained free of accidents.

It was, from a business point of view, a great start to summer. It follows on a great winter that, from business and weather perspectives, seemed to carry on far longer than usual. And the winter followed last year’s record summer, when the sun kept shining and the people kept coming.

It’s a run of business success that many feel Whistler deserves after the steady nosedive of the first four years of the new millennium. That now seems like a long time ago.

But it was just four years ago this week, on July 2, 2003, that Whistler and Vancouver were awarded the 2010 Olympics. In the moments after the announcement Whistler-Blackcomb’s Doug Forseth said: “I think this is going to be the catalyst that's going to get our economy moving again. I think this is so valuable in many ways, not just sports — sports are critical — but business in general, and culture. The whole attitude of the province is going to be up, it's going to be positive.”

Today, it seems almost quaint to think that the economy would be anything except booming. The point here is not that preparations for the Olympics have turned the economy around, it’s more complicated than that, but that four years ago people were talking about the economy needing turning around.

Even two summers ago, business owners in the village were desperate for someone to pay attention to their plight. A meeting on village enhancement in the spring of 2005 turned into a forum on where the Paralympic arena should be built and how much more in taxes business people were willing to pay if the facility brought more customers to the village.

The village arena, of course, was eventually moved to the village of Vancouver, but it was the catalyst for some serious debate about the state of Whistler’s economy.

Since then, business has grown almost steadily — to the point where a shortage of labour is a bigger concern than a shortage of customers. That’s a sizeable shift in priorities in a relatively short period of time. It suggests several things, including: Whistler’s economic model is fundamentally sound, but needs constant attention; that many people overseeing the business side of Whistler have been paying attention; that snow in winter and sun in summer makes everyone look smart; that things could again drop off very quickly if we lose focus.

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