November 26, 2010 Features & Images » Feature Story

Whistler's sustainability advantage: the Whistler Centre for Sustainability 

Executive Director

Whistler Centre for Sustainability


Whistler has made incredible strides on its journey towards sustainability. As a community, it has much to share with the world, but also much to learn. Whistler can take big ideas and make them real. We dreamt of hosting the Winter Games and we did it - in partnership, but always led by our community values as articulated in Whistler2020.

However, as our post-Games winter season approaches, the key question in everyone's mind is how many room nights we're going to sell. If our average occupancy rate sits at 54 per cent (with lots of room for growth), our community wants to know why protecting biodiversity will help put heads in beds.

It's because a robust and vibrant economy can only thrive in a healthy, functioning environment and supported by a strong and just society - that's what we mean by sustainability.  It is not only in the fact that we need to protect the natural areas and inhabitants that make our spectacular resort community a successful tourism destination, or that "green" or "responsible" tourism is a competitive advantage: the reality is our tourism markets are beginning to expect this from tourism operators, services and resorts. And if we don't understand and embrace this inter-connectedness, we will start falling behind - never mind lead.

In addressing concerns around our community's economic viability and how businesses will fare in the upcoming winter season, the question then should be: how do we build and sustain our tourism economy to ensure the long-term economic, environmental and social well-being of our community?

The answer is sustainability - it's our differentiator and will become our competitive advantage, if we figure it out soon enough. Whistler is already recognized as a leader in community sustainability planning and action among local governments - witness the number of local government-focused conferences hosted in Whistler over the last year, like the annual meeting by the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in 2009. Now we need to penetrate the tourism market in the same way.

Rachel Dodds, director of sustaining tourism, speaking to the Tourism Whistler AGM in the summer on "eco" consumerism, told the audience that consumers, in Whistler's case, guests, are increasingly seeking out more sustainable, 'green' and responsible tourism choices. Peter Yesawich, of Y Partnership, a New York-based company that researches tourism trends and markets travel, leisure and entertainment, spoke at another Tourism Whistler event last week, reiterating a growing demand and expectation for environmentally responsible tourism choices.

But just recycling in hotel rooms isn't going to cut it. Whistler needs to lead and innovate in sustainability practices. Given the enormous challenges we face in the current economic climate, now, more than ever, is the need for Whistler to look deep into our collective souls and figure out how to really embed sustainability into daily operations that will differentiate ourselves as a tourism destination and build our competitive advantage.

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