Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Scott Carrell



Don’t get caught up marketing Walkmans when everybody is buying iPods. Doesn’t matter how popular they were five years ago – doesn’t matter how many design prizes your company won for their creative design in the past – they are simply irrelevant in today’s market. This is the analogy that Scott Carrell likes to use when describing Whistler’s situation in 2006.

"This is our biggest challenge," explains the man behind Affinity Rentals. "We can’t be afraid to re-evaluate what our ‘product’ is all about here. What worked for us in 1986 or even 1996 may not be appropriate to our situation anymore. Whistler’s economic impact translates into about $1 billion a year. It’s all nice and good to talk about ‘sustainability’. But what does that mean in economic terms? Have we really looked at Whistler’s potential from a 21 st century perspective? Have we actually put together a detailed economic strategy – a true business plan – for the future of our community? Do we share common goals? I don’t think so…"

He uses another analogy to re-enforce his point. "When a grenade goes off," he explains, "it explodes with great force in every direction. That’s the way I see Whistler right now. Whether it’s Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler or municipal hall, it seems like we’re all doing our own thing and going off in all sorts of directions. Whistler needs to move from a grenade approach to more of a shotgun approach. We need to focus our efforts and all move together in the same direction…"

Carrell believes Whistler will experience renewed success when the community realizes just how big the mountain tourism market is beyond the traditional skier/snowboarder demographic. "Skiers and snowboarders make up around 8-9 per cent of the overall population," he explains. "Does it make sense today to restrict our marketing efforts to such a small group? Heck no! We have one of the most educated populations in the country. Last year, for example, I had two architects, a lawyer and a veterinarian working for me at Affinity. So why aren’t we developing initiatives to promote Whistler as an international learning centre? There are huge opportunities there."

But that doesn’t mean Whistler needs to turn its back on skiers and snowboarders. "We just need to broaden our target markets," he says. "We need to engage other segments of the population."

Given its low elevation (and its surfeit of oxygen), its fresh air and easy access to the kind of wilderness found in few places on the globe, Carrell believes that the time is right to expand the Whistler experience beyond the conventional ski resort model. "We’re spending $10 million on a new library," he says. "So how do we make sure we get the most out of our investment? What are we going to do to ensure that the new facility becomes more than just an expensive repository for books?" And that’s just the tip of the conceptual iceberg, he argues. "Whether it’s lifelong learning or health and wellness, arts and culture or outdoor pursuits, Whistler has the potential to attract a very interesting group of new customers. But we need to think bigger than just the ski hills. Our plant and costs are too big now to risk on a winter-only model. That’s simply not sustainable anymore!"