New ways to welcome Whistler guests considered 

No budget yet to implement report’s recommendations

Village hosts might be spotted around town pointing the way to lost visitors if the recommendations from an $80,000 study are implemented in the future.

Fashioned after the Whistler-Blackcomb mountain hosts program, village hosts will be decked out in highly visible branded clothing. They will be trained to answer questions, give directions and generally extend friendly helpful service to travellers passing through town.

"It’s such an effective program on the mountain that I think it will be really valuable in the village for many reasons," said Councillor Kristi Wells, adding that these community ambassadors could provide that important personal connection for visitors.

Village hosts were just one of many suggestions in the study that is aimed at providing a better Whistler experience for resort guests. As a result of that study the Whistler Welcome Strategy was presented to council on Monday night.

Among the highlights of the strategy is a visitor information centre in Function Junction, information kiosks at the Vancouver International Airport and a colour coded mapping system for Whistler’s neighbourhoods.

"All these recommendations certainly present challenges in terms of implementation," said Bob Ransford, senior consultant with Counterpoint Consultants, who presented the strategy to council.

The proposed Welcome Centre in Function Junction, or at another southern site, is aimed primarily at rubber tire traffic. The centre would address the concern that there is no formal sense of arrival in the resort.

Ransford said the Ministry of Transportation is considering putting in a roundabout at Function Junction, which makes it a logical choice for a welcome centre as a place where guests can get information before heading into the community.

The site could have the proposed colour-coded mapping system prominently displayed. This system would assign a colour to each neighbourhood. The colour would then be posted on the neighbourhood street signs, giving people an easy and quick idea of where they are when they make their way around town.

The welcome centre could also have an area where people would pick-up or drop-off keys to their rental units or there could be a representative on hand acting on behalf of all property managers, said Ransford.

But the Function Junction odour problems wafting from the sewage treatment plant need to be taken into account before this site is chosen as the initial welcoming point to Whistler, he said.

Wells asked the consultant what kind of percentage of traffic they could intercept at the Welcome Centre.

Ransford said that would require more study but he suspects they could capture a good percentage, "if they felt there was something worth stopping for."

As for air travellers, the strategy touches on a number of possibilities.

For example there could be a stand alone Whistler Information Centre in Vancouver International Airport or an automated kiosk.

Councillor Caroline Lamont asked if the strategy identified ways to ease the hassle of travelling with ski gear or travelling with children.

"It was not identified as a priority," said Ransford.

"That’s something that could be looked at more precisely."

Ransford also said ground transportation options must also be expanded for travellers arriving at the airport.

Throughout it all, the consultants called for branding the different aspects of the strategy, from standardized driving directions to the road signs along the highway to the colour-coded mapping in the resort. The idea is to have a seamless holiday experience from the moment a guest decides to come to Whistler to the moment they return home.

"I think it creates a great foundation to build upon," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

Although commissioned by One Whistler, a business group including the RMOW, Tourism Whistler and the Chamber of Commerce, the municipality kicked in $50,000 of the $80,000 budget for the study.

It is not yet clear which organization will take the lead role in the implementation phase. The roles and responsibilities will most likely be co-shared by business leaders.

Currently there is no money allocated in the municipal budget to implement any of the recommendations in the strategy.

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