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Alta states

The Canary in the mine shaft — a trip to the Australian Alps



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I really saw that at work in Australia this time. The resort representatives there all realized the common quest we were on; the common challenges we all faced."

In other words, he says, "there's a greater realization today that we are partners, not competitors. We're reaching for solutions together."

These are disturbing times for the Canadian tourism industry. In a recent interview, David Goldstein, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, came out with some very troubling numbers. Between 2002 and 2008, he claims, Canada's global ranking (meaning its ability to attract international visitors) dropped from seventh overall to 14 th ! We went from vying with such powerhouse tourism countries like France, Italy and Spain to being ranked below such once-lowly performers as Ukraine, Turkey and Mexico.

The message: everyone is competing for the same tourism dollars now. There's no room for complacency here. Get lazy and you lose market share.

Unfortunately, argues Goldstein, Canada's tourism industry has suffered from "benign neglect" in recent years. Despite what Canadian policy makers might think, explains Goldstein, the Maple Leaf can't sell itself.

"Self-promotion might not come naturally to Canadians," he concludes, "but aggressive marketing is essential in the competitive world of international tourism."

It's a message that DeJong embraces fully.

"Look at the snowsports industry," he says. "There's so much more we could be telling our customers. Our business isn't just about riding powder and hitting jumps. It's a lifestyle - a passion. What about mental health and physical fitness and family values? What about the spiritual components of mountain play - or the freedom and romance of sliding in snow in wintertime? These are all incredibly powerful motivators. I mean, how many sports can boast the participation of three - or even four - generations all at the same time?"

He smiles, but there's more frustration there than happiness. "Unfortunately, too many of us reduce all this richness to 'selling a product,'" he says. "And to me, that's selling the mountain experience short."

In recent years, much of DeJong's efforts have been focused on creating a long-term, coherent strategy for summer development at WB. "It's a no-brainer... While we are incredibly lucky to be living in B.C.'s Coast Range, and are far up the mineshaft from Australia 's resort canaries, we're still facing a fast-changing weather environment. The sooner we can spread our business over four seasons instead of one the more sustainable we'll be."

Still, he says, "As we embrace summer in its broader context, we can't help but look over our shoulder and think that 'yes, maybe we did miss something in the winter experience.'" He grins. "Getting into the mountains in summer, you get to experience everything you'd felt in the past all over again." And that's an extremely valuable interaction, he says. Why? "Because it helps us to look at our natural assets with a much broader experiential perspective."