"You force people to stop asking questions, and before you know it they have auctioned off the question mark and sold it for scrap. No boldness. No good ideas for fixing what's broken in the land. Because if you happen to mention it's broken, you are automatically disqualified."
- Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
Things aren't looking all that great these days in Tiny Town (as my back-page colleague loves to call this place). Disgruntled homeowners. Feuding politicians. Underperforming bureaucrats. Businesses going bankrupt. Residents wringing their hands and wondering when the tax-hikes will end. It's a virtual cacophony of claims and counter-claims, half-lies, misdirection and out-and-out dishonesty.
And amidst all this insider brouhaha, there are troubling signs that the community's life blood - tourists - are not following their assigned scripts either. Sure, August to date hasn't been too bad. But that's mainly due to the uninterrupted stretch of sunny days more than anything else. What about the rest of the year?
In a recent piece on the town's summer business, the Vancouver Sun put it bluntly: "Despite hopes that the Winter Games would bring tourists flocking back to B.C. and especially to Whistler, 2010 is shaping up to be one of the mountain resort's worst years."
Great advertisement, isn't it? But how can you blame them? Year-to-date hotel occupancy, they report, is a dismal 59.3 per cent, lower even than the recession plagued 61.8 per cent in 2009 (and that despite 100 per cent occupancy during the Games)! Who would have guessed?
Anecdotal evidence also points to some troubled waters on the horizon. Hotel room rates are at an all time low. Restaurants are struggling. Longtime employees are being given their walking papers. As for WB's vaunted R2R (resto-to-resto) gondola, the company took full-page ads in dailies across the country last week touting its 2-for-1 pricing.
One would think that Intrawest might be a little concerned with its underperforming asset. Yet in that same Vancouver Sun article, WB marketing maven, Stuart Rempel, seemed oblivious to the signs. "It's truly becoming a new tourism icon for Whistler, B.C. and Canada," said Rempel of his $60 million sideways-transportation "toy."
Now I don't know about you, but I haven't seen a lot of companies offering 2-for-1 pricing on popular items before. Usually, that kind of a mark-down is a sign of panic or slow sales.
I mean, have you ever seen WB offer a 2-1 pricing "special" on lift tickets during the winter season? I rest my case.
The economic roiling of the Whistler waters is troubling for sure. And it's trouble, alas, that no short-term Band-Aid is going to fix. The solution? I'm convinced Whistler needs to unleash some seriously unconventional initiatives to get back on track.