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Business leaders challenged at workshop

Lots to be positive about but hard work still ahead



Almost 100 business owners and hoteliers showed up at a recent Chamber of Commerce-hosted workshop that focused on putting Whistler’s best face forward.

Organized as a result of a recent chamber luncheon where the guest speaker, former Intrawest executive Ed Pitoniak, challenged the business community to decide what kind of resort it wanted to be, the Dec. 15 workshop brought local leaders to speak about giving Whistler a positive spin.

"We want guests leaving with their credit cards maxed out… and a smile on their faces," said Paul Tormey, Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s general manager, and first speaker of five that included VANOC representative Maureen Douglas, newly-elected councilor Ralph Forsythe, Tourism Whistler’s Oliver Flaser and Whistler-Blackcomb’s Doug Forseth.

Tormey related how when he arrived in Whistler 18 months ago from a Bermuda posting he was surprised at the "woe is me" attitude amongst the business community. Noting that several prestigious magazines have ranked the resort as one of the top 10 in the world to visit he asked: "Why don’t we believe this?"

Tormey said that although the Chateau would be sending 54 per cent less profit than in 2000 to head office this year, he would not be lowering room rates as he did this summer in an effort to attract guests. He also advocated for better service standards across the resort, saying that staff everywhere should be greeting every guest they encounter.

"Whether it’s good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, we need to engage visitors," he said.

Tormey was followed by Maureen Douglas who said Whistler needs to be prepared to welcome the world and emphasized the resort’s place as part of a global village.

Councilor Ralph Forsythe picked up on Douglas’s remarks, saying Whistler "needs to be evangelical about selling." Forsythe’s talk centred on four themes: job performance, external and internal attitude, and goal-setting. He said service industry workers need to focus on one positive change they could make in attitude or work habits.

Asking business leaders to "control your controllables," Oliver Flaser, Tourism Whistler’s director of marketing, brought a two-page gatefold Toronto Star ad to show off, as well as slides of three-storey banner ads promoting Whistler hung in Toronto’s Yonge and Eglinton district. Flaser emphasized that Whistler’s non-ski activities are "second to none," and noted it takes less time for Los Angeles residents to get to Whistler than it does for them to drive to Mammoth Mountain in California.

Whistler-Blackcomb’s vice-president of operations, Doug Forseth, outlined changes the company has made on the mountains, including revamping terrain to deal with possible low snow levels and enforcing good ski practices in family zones. "We are not the new kid on the block anymore," Forseth said, adding that work needs to be done to "change the perception there isn’t value in Whistler."

In a short question and answer audience members asked how to add an Olympic buzz to business advertising without getting sued, and about including Whistler as a wellness destination in promotions.

Reaction was mixed to the five speakers’ messages.

"It’s something everybody knows and what we need to know," Laura Downs of Ziptrek Ecotours said afterwards.

Lina Jakobs of Whistler Home Holidays said she had been hoping to garner something "more tangible" from the gathering. "I wanted to know what others were doing, what could be useful for us," adding that the workshop was extremely positive "in the ‘we shall overcome’ sense."

Trevor Chelswick of said he agreed with Delta Whistler Suites GM Kimberly Hughes who said she responded to queries at a Vancouver corporate meeting that Whistler ski conditions are "awesome."

"I think that if we’re spending millions (in advertising) saying how great the snow is we should be supporting that," Hughes said.

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