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Businesses get 'C+' grade for service

Chamber president reviews the state of Whistler businesses in the resort in 2012



Whistler business in 2012 is robust and active but could do more in the area of customer service, according to a snapshot by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's president. Fiona Famulak made a presentation on the state of business at the resort as part of the chamber's annual general meeting on Dec. 12.

Presented in three chapters, the presentation looked at where Whistler business is today, the growth, change and evolution over the last decade, and looking at what's ahead in the future. Famulak described the presentation as "a high-level review of Whistler's economic position over the last decade."

She noted that in 2011 the Whistler Chamber had 830 members out of 1,500 business licenses issued by the municipality. In 2012, membership dropped to 800, with the number of business licenses still to be announced.

Based on 2011 membership, this means the membership rate for the chamber is 53 per cent, much higher than the national average of between 10 and 15 per cent.

"Is there room for potential growth? Absolutely," Famulak said.

The industries represented by current members span 17 sectors, with almost half (49 per cent) from the hospitality industry. This includes accommodations, food and beverage, retail and activity providers. The remaining 51 per cent of members are in construction, education, professional services, health and other areas.

Most members, she noted, were either mature, thriving businesses with an established customer base (57.5 per cent) or in a growth cycle (25.6 per cent), with only a few in decline (5.9 per cent). Companies in expansion comprised 7.3 per cent of members.

In employment terms, this means 17,000 employees (or the equivalent of 12,000 full-time jobs). The hospitality industry hires up to 71 per cent of this workforce. "That provides some perspective to keep an eye on," Famulak said.

She noted that 98 per cent of British Columbia's business base fell in the category of small business, with 77 per cent of that business base having 20 or fewer employees.

"We actually mirror the British Columbia numbers quite closely, 74 per cent of our businesses employ 19 or less... 33 per cent of our businesses employ four or less, with five per cent of our businesses employing more than 50," she said.

The broad base indicated a community of "many, many small businesses," Famulak said.

According to the Whistler Housing Authority, 82 per cent of Whistler employees live in the resort, an increase over historically lower figures like in 2002 when it was 73 per cent. She cited the 2010 Olympics as creating greater employee accommodation as a legacy.

And 93 per cent of businesses are able to achieve full staffing levels, an improvement over 2005-06 and 2007-08, when it was as low as 70 per cent.

"This means the demand today is being satisfied... that's an important message, because we know that over the last few years companies have been trying to make things work with a very skinny staffing level," she said.

Customer service is an important part of the resort's DNA, Famulak said, citing the importance of the service challenge program supported by the chamber, mystery shopper programs and recognition programs.

She noted that Whistler business had achieved a C+ rating in this category.

"That's not good enough. We were recently named as the number one ski resort in North America, so we know that our competitors are... snapping at our heels trying to get to number one," said Famulak. "We have to work really, really hard to keep that number one position."

In 2013, Famulak said, the Whistler Chamber will be establishing the Whistler Report Card, with more of a focus on current information that is sector specific. Originally due to be a regular service by the chamber in 2012, it was postponed.

"We want the Whistler Report Card to be as comprehensive and useful to our members as possible. We therefore decided to postpone the launch of the card in 2012 until we are able to further populate it, with help from specific sectors, with statistics from the accommodation, retail and F&B sectors," Famulak said in an emailed response to questions.