Mellow May long weekend brings different crowd 

Officials pleased with 2016 holiday, which passed largely without incident

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRANDON BARRETT - ON THE GROUND Two RCMP officers patrol the Village Stroll on Saturday night, May 21.
  • Photo by Brandon Barrett
  • ON THE GROUND Two RCMP officers patrol the Village Stroll on Saturday night, May 21.

Whistler can breathe a sigh of relief after its long-troubled May long weekend largely passed without incident this year.

"It was noticeably different than it has been from other May 24th weekends, even last year," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

Last year's Victoria Day holiday was marred by the stabbing death of Burnaby teen Luka Gordic, as well as a second, non-fatal stabbing less than 24 hours later. With a highly visible police presence and a $30,000 operational plan in place, Whistler RCMP reported a steep decline in calls for service in 2016 — 74 compared to 169 last year — and no major violent incidents to speak of. A total of 21 people were lodged in cells over the course of the weekend.

"We did not see the large groups of youth that we saw typically in years past," noted Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair. "We did see a few groups that were problematic and our officers, when they saw those groups walking in the village, would just tuck in behind them and keep an eye on them. I think that was actually quite a helpful tactic in curtailing violence and being able to intervene as soon as possible if there was any indication of violent behaviour."

LeClair said officers' high visibility, combined with Friday's roadblocks on Highway 99, likely played a role as well.

Local officials have used a multi-pronged approach to reclaim what has become something of a black eye on the resort calendar. The municipality's May Long Weekend Committee, made up of representatives from the local accommodation and bar sectors, police and council, was formed three years ago after a particularly raucous holiday. The Great Outdoors Festival (GO Fest) came out of those discussions as a way to attract a more family-oriented demographic. It would appear it's beginning to have its intended effect.

"We knew that GO Fest would be a multi-year project and wouldn't change things overnight," said Wilhelm-Morden. "This was our third year and I think the programming was attracting people and the right kind of people."

The accommodation sector also played a crucial role in curbing unruly behavior, Wilhelm-Morden said. Some hotels had strict "one-strike" policies in place and kept a close eye on the guests occupying rooms. In past years, hotels struggled with keeping track of guests in rooms who had not actually booked reservations themselves.

"From our hotel perspective, it was a really great weekend," said Wendy Hargreaves, director of marketing for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where solo guests had to sign conduct waivers. "We managed our reservations very closely on who checked in and who didn't. We had lots of security on and absolutely no issues."

It doesn't appear business had decreased this year either, with Tourism Whistler confirming room-night bookings paced seven per cent ahead of the 2015 holiday.

"The general consensus from everyone I talked to in the restaurant world is that things were really steady and mellow without incidents," said the Whistler Restaurant Association's Amy Huddle, who also manages Sushi Village. "If anyone did experience lower sales, I think that's more to do with the weather than anything else."

Brenton Smith of O&R Entertainment, which owns and operates several resort bars and clubs, including the Amsterdam Pub and La Brasserie, said business was largely on par with last year's long weekend outside of a slight decrease in traffic at Maxx Fish.

He applauded the RMOW for its approach to the holiday and hopes to see a continued focus on attracting outdoor enthusiasts to the resort.

"It's definitely a good direction and I think if we can continue forward by creating even more outdoor initiatives through the weekend it will just fill the resort with more outdoor lovers," Smith said.


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