Tough economy and 'Olympic aversion' create business casualties 

Catering to consumer is key

It has been a strange couple of years for Whistler. A dozen or so months after the global economy tanked, the most famous of the Sea to Sky communities experienced the multifaceted effects of  "Olympic aversion" - a guaranteed, oft-proven tourism dip that haunts cities that host Winter or Summer Games. This combination of factors has been a challenge for many small independent businesses that rely on the abundance of peak season tourists with mega-spending power to get them through the slower shoulder seasons.

Britt Germann recently closed the doors of Path Gallery in Tyndall Stone Lodge on the Village Stroll after nearly six years of business. The 1,200 square foot gallery space now stands empty, save for a few wooden Christmas trees lined up in the window. Most of the commercial real estate on either side of it is also vacant, but Germann is reluctant to blame her former landlord for the rash of closures in the building. That area of the Village Stroll, she says, creates a psychological barrier for pedestrian traffic. A line of planters, construction at Celebration Plaza, and a slightly out-of-the-way location condensed the problem but she credits a depleted economy and lack of vision in the Municipality and Chamber of Commerce for most of the damage.

"I think the recent economic strife globally has affected the buying power of the guest in Whistler and it has also affected the type of guest we get in Whistler. The charter flights are down from Europe and it's now a regional visitor looking for a good time, and that isn't exactly my clientele," she said. "I do agree that there are ways that one needs to modify one's business to adapt but for the long term I don't feel that the organizing bodies - Tourism Whistler, RMOW or the Chamber of Commerce - really are being very effective with respect to vision, with respect to planning, with respect to understanding what a guest needs to become engaged with the whole experience."

Anticipating the needs of this new breed of guest is something that the Whistler Chamber of Commerce (WCC), Tourism Whistler (TW) and Resort Municipality of Whistler are vocally striving to stay on top of, but the town's economic authorities say it is ultimately the responsibility of the business community to take on new and innovative ways to get people into their shops.

"There is a lot of work and a lot of thought going into how to get people to flow better around the village, that's an important consideration," said Scott Carrell, chair of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce board of directors. "What it really comes down to is people coming up with things that people want - viable ideas - then that will bring traffic. It's really about the intellectual capital of the business in the neighbourhood and it's not about what the municipality is going to do or what I'm going to do or what the chamber is going to do - it's about what collective neighbourhoods and collective people with visions are going to do."

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