New economic reality not so rosy 

Davies says flat economy more than just a blip; monitoring report figures not new to TW

Whistler needs to take charge of its new economic reality, according to Councillor Nick Davies.

After reading the municipality's recently released Resort Community Monitoring Report 2003/04, a barometer report measuring Whistler's economic, social and environmental trends, Davies said the community must take its analysis as a call to action.

"I hope that the community takes this report as a wake up call," he said at Monday's council meeting.

"I'm worried, and I think a lot of people are becoming increasingly concerned, about the fact all the trends seem to indicate that the economy has flattened and it's more than a short term blip," he added, after the meeting.

"I don't think we're in a scenario where we can say ‘don't worry, we've weathered these (downward turns) before’ because when you look at these curves it's a fundamental flattening (of the economy)."

A number of key indicators in the report show Whistler has experienced its first consecutive declines in visitation numbers and there has been a distinct slow down in the economy since the summer of 2000.

Annual resort visitor numbers have flattened. Annual resort room night numbers have flattened. And annual ski and snowboard visits have also leveled off. All three have seen significant decreases in numbers since the 2001-02 season.

"Tourism Whistler, (and) the community, didn't need to see those numbers (in the monitoring report) to know what's been going on," said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher. "We've been analyzing this for a couple of years now…. We have been very critically aware of this."

But, she explained the kind of explosive growth Whistler saw before 2000 in its nascent stages is not realistic for a maturing resort.

Projections for the next six years show a conservative growth pattern in the range of two to four per cent annually.

That doesn't mean Tourism Whistler isn't actively pursuing opportunities to continually grow business.

"We're very aware that Whistler is maturing as a resort," she said. "We're very aware that our projections for the future are much more conservative and therefore we are being very aggressive, at Tourism Whistler, in understanding where we're going to see future growth."

She points to the family market, the gay market and emerging geographic markets such as China as potential growth areas.

Still, Davies is concerned that despite honest efforts from the resort community to refocus marketing and increase Whistler's product offerings with things such as the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and Zip Trek, the economy doesn't seem to be responding positively overall.

"We have continued to reinvent ourselves and the economy has flattened anyway," said Davies.

"I'm really concerned that we continue to believe our own press and we aren't thinking outside the box."

It will take time, explained Fisher, to see the results of the resort's efforts.

"Any growth segment takes three to five years before you see the critical mass attached to it," she said.

It should not be understated, she added, that Whistler has been hit with what she calls "a series of tough luck challenges," not the least of which was January's bad weather.

Still, they must be doing something right, she said.

"We're actually going to see an increase in our January business this year over last year," said Fisher. "Now take out of the equation all of the cancellations that occurred as a result of our weather, and we would have had the most banner January that we've ever had in the history of Whistler. So we're doing some things that are moving in the right direction."

Anyone interested in reading the report can download it from the municipal Web site at www.whistler.ca .

For more detailed information municipal staff will be on hand to answer questions at a public open house on Saturday, Feb. 19 at Myrtle Philip school in the Millar Room from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

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