Though talk of economic recovery is forever floating around Whistler, some financial industry experts think it's going to be a while before British Columbia and the rest of Canada find normal.
That was the opinion of Jim Allworth, a Royal Bank of Canada investment strategist who spoke on the national economy at the inaugural Outlook Economic Symposium held at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Monday.
"The financial crisis is going to cast quite a long shadow," he said. "We're in a period where we're going to be working out the damage we did leading up to it. I don't know how long it will take to do it but it's going to take longer than most people think."
Allworth estimates it will take seven years for the economy to firm up, but admits some colleagues predict it will be longer.
According to symposium speakers like Sam Shaw of Encana Energy Corp. and B.C.'s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Pat Bell, all the hype about the burgeoning China market is relevant, especially given B.C.'s strategic geographical placement as world economies shift away from Atlantic U.S. and Europe and towards the growing nations of Asia Pacific. But that potential is only applicable to an extent, because those shifting economies are still undeveloped and to some extent unstable. In the meantime, Allworth and Urban Futures director Andrew Ramlo insist the most critical markets are closer to home. Despite the horror stories of crumbling governments in California, skyrocketing national debt and endless foreclosures, the U.S. economy is still the most powerful in the world. It eclipses China's and despite the rhetoric surrounding an imminent Chinese world economic takeover, the reality is there is little to suggest that outcome is around the corner.
The U.S. still accounts for 26 per cent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP), making it the world's largest economy. China, under the most optimistic of conditions, has about 10 per cent of the world's GDP and is unlikely to catch up and claim global economic dominance in the foreseeable future.
Regional Vice President Pacific Northwest Fairmont Hotels Resorts Mark Andrew confirmed that too much focus too early on the Asian market could lead to problems elsewhere.
"The Chinese market is an exciting opportunity but it is a small piece of what the success of British Columbia is about," he said. "For Whistler in particular, China is going to want to come and explore new parts of the world but when I'm in Beijing and I'm selling to an operator looking to bring a group to Canada, they get very excited about the mountains, but they get a lot more excited about Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermes, because that's what they're really interested in."
Andrew also cautioned against glossing over the very things that make Canadian destinations Canadian - something he fondly refers to as the four Ms.
"The Chinese market will be part of our success but I wouldn't put all my eggs in that one basket - we have a great amount of business in Eastern Canada we need to take good care of and the Americans aren't done, we get a lot of business from the U.S. and we need to make sure to continue to be their playground up north. I tongue in cheek say we are moose, mountains, Mounties and maple leafs but doggonit, we are."
Whistler businesses aren't strangers to selling more than their own specific product. No longer do only prices matter - guests expect memories. Gorgeous, sun or snow drenched breakfasts overlooking peaks, zip tours unlike any other - the bed is just a place to recharge for the next day's adventures.
"Why not celebrate what has brought them here for many, many years - it's great business," continued Andrew. "They come up, they spend. They don't come for Whistler for a bed or a meal, they come for an experience - so long as we can define that experience, we're laughing."
The symposium didn't only draw people interested in hard numbers and economic forecasting. Long-time Whistler resident Carolyn McBain of Mountainberry Landscaping, attended the two-day event to network, find mentorship and gather information.
"It's not specific to my industry, it's more looking at business in general, talking to people who are business experts and looking at the global economy, regional economies, and stepping out of your own box and looking at the bigger picture," she said during a break between speakers. "I'm here to learn and grow and I think we have to get away from always looking at what the challenge is and what the downside to the economy is - which Whistler does a lot - and look forward. There is growth happening."
For the full story, read Thursday's Pique .