feature 204 

MARKETING AND CULTURE By Guercy Thimoleon The speed at which Whistler has become a successful resort has surprised many people; alarmed some, delighted others. The resort’s success has attracted more people and spurred more growth. But what is often overlooked when analyzing bed units, skier visits and environmental impact studies is the cultural awakening of the resort — a product of its success. "The success of the resort is the foundation upon which we’re now building cultural and artistic depth," says Anne Popma, president of the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts. As with most success stories, a combination of factors are behind Whistler's triumphs. To begin with, British Columbia has enjoyed a relatively healthy economy since the recession of the early ’80s. Part of the reason for that is B.C.'s location on the edge of the Pacific Rim, a region which accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the world's economic output. The tourism/service sector is also one of the areas of the economy experiencing strong, steady growth. The Ministry of Tourism reports that for 1994 the industry generated roughly $6.2 billion in revenue, an increase of $450 million over the previous year. That is equal to about 50 per cent of the forest industry’s output. The ministry is forecasting that by 1999 tourism revenues could hit the $9.9 billion mark. The recent efforts to build a larger conference centre in Vancouver, based on the fact that present conference facilities are too small for major conventions, which thus leaves Vancouver out of that market, is further evidence of the growing importance of tourism. In addition to a strong economy and a healthy industry, the marketing of Whistler resort has also contributed to its success, and by extension, to its cultural development. When the Whistler Resort Association first began marketing the resort it emphasized skiing. Eastern Canada, California and Japan were targeted early. After Whistler became known as a ski resort emphasis was placed on marketing the resort as a summer destination. Convention business was sought to keep the hotel rooms booked and employment stable during the shoulder season. In the last few years, as the summer market has grown and the convention business has flourished, marketing efforts have expanded — to Mexico, Germany and the U.K. Today, during the winter months, roughly 40 per cent of visitors come from Canada, 30 per cent from the U.S.A., 20 per cent from Japan and about 10 per cent from Europe and the rest of the world. In the summer months the Canadian portion of the visiting population increases to about 65 per cent while the United States is steady at about 28 per cent. The rest of the world account for the remaining 7 per cent of the total. In terms of growth, the WRA reports the U.K. market has risen 185 per cent and Germany is up 144 per cent from the 1992/93 winter season. Meanwhile, the Japanese market seems to have levelled off. But the Pacific Rim influence can be seen and felt in Whistler. Australian youths make up a significant portion of Whistler's work force. Japanese visitors are visible on the ski slopes and around the village, and Korea is expected to be an emerging market in the next few years. Whistler’s growing international profile is now attracting people other than skiers and from areas other than the Pacific Rim. As Barrett Fisher, the resort association’s director of marketing says: "The WRA targets numerous international markets. Not only does this truly balance our marketing mix, but it adds to the world class, cosmopolitan flavour of the resort." Some residents point out that this cosmopolitan dimension has brought greater tolerance for others and a reduction in cultural prejudices to Whistler. But the most visible signs of the cultural growth of Whistler are in the arts. The Whistler Community Arts Council, the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, the Whistler Summer Theatre society and individual promoters have brought some renowned international artists to Whistler over the years. Charlie Byrd, Karen Kain, the Colorado String Quartet and Galen Rowell have performed or taught in Whistler. "The success of the resort has contributed to what we are able to do, unquestionably," says Popma. The resort's standing internationally has laid a foundation for the development of culture in Whistler. In addition to performing, artists come to Whistler to teach workshops in photography, music and crafts. Seminars on subjects ranging from aboriginal women in contemporary society to multi-party mediation to resort development have attracted government and industry leaders from across the continent to Whistler. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Resort Municipality of Whistler are now funding a study to determine programs and facilities that will put Whistler on the map as a cultural destination. The study is a follow up to the 1993 Whistler Symposium which identified education and culture as priorities for Whistler's future economic diversification. The Centre for Business and the Arts is also looking at assuming responsibility for a province-wide program the provincial government recently dropped. Other plans for the future include a multi-use entertainment/cultural centre in Village North and perhaps some type of artisans village. Whistler's cultural growth is not as readily apparent as its physical growth, but it is becoming more and more significant. As the resort grows and diversifies culture is becoming as big an attraction for some visitors as the skiing and golf. What that means for Whistler is a more well-rounded, interesting community.

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