Whistler Chamber named as finalist at World Chambers Competition 

Local business organization recognized for its Whistler Experience training program

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO
  • File photo

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce will be competing on the global stage this September as part of the 2017 World Chambers Competition.

Last week, the chamber was named as a finalist in the "Best Education and Training Project" category of the international competition for its Whistler Experience training program.

A partnership with the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business, Whistler Experience is the chamber's revamped customer service and education program for frontline staff and employers. Roughly 16,000 people have enrolled in the program over the past three years.

"One of the goals that the chamber has always had was to be globally recognized for this program," said Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace. "For us, as a chamber, a board and a community, we should be really proud, because it was something we were trying to achieve and being a finalist is where it's at right now, but to us, I think we've already won."

The local chamber was selected from 53 applications worldwide representing 27 different countries.

Going up against the Bursa Chamber of Commerce and the Eskisehir Chamber of Industry, both in Turkey, along with the 150,000-member Hamburg Chamber of Commerce in Germany, the Whistler business organization is by far the smallest of the four finalists. The Whistler Chamber of Commerce currently counts just over 700 members and seven staff.

Whistler could leverage the international spotlight the program has earned into its employee recruitment efforts, posited Pace.

"We're obviously in a labour shortage, and having people see (the award) and perhaps want to come here for that, I think might be an asset," she said.

This isn't the first time Whistler Experience has been singled out for its approach to customer service training. In March, the U.S.-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business recognized the program for innovative education practices. Led by professor Mark Colgate, the training modules are based on 30 years of behavioural science research, and combine both online and in-person components.

"To have that level of a professor coming in to teach with the human behaviour research (Colgate) has done to put this together is something unusual," noted Pace.

Despite Whistler Experience's success, the long-term future of one of the program's cornerstones, the Spirit Pass, remains up in the air following Vail Resorts' takeover of Whistler Blackcomb (WB) last summer. A reduced rate season's ski pass offered in partnership with WB to those registered for the training program, there has been some fear that Vail's practice of undercutting pass rates would encourage employees to forego a Spirit Pass in lieu of the cheaper, multi-resort Epic Pass, priced at $1,117 for 2017-18.

But with Vail's announcement in March that the price of a Spirit Pass would drop from $1,439 to $1,229, the perk will remain in place at least for the foreseeable future.

"With Pete Sonntag, the new COO at Whistler Blackcomb just coming in now ... he needs to come and get a feel for the community and understand the importance of the Spirit Pass, not just for a cheap pass, but for the benefit that it brings to the business owners in this community so they can attract and retain their team," Pace said. "I'm very hopeful. Conversations will happen, and I'd love to see (Sonntag) at the Whistler Experience program in November, but I don't know the future at this point." The chamber will showcase the Whistler Experience program to a panel of judges at the 10th annual World Chambers Congress in Sydney, Australia on Sept. 19. The winners will be announced at a gala dinner on Sept. 21.

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