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Chamber survey highlights business expectations

Organization hopes for much higher response to next questionnaire



A Whistler Chamber of Commerce member survey has found that expectations for a strong Christmas holiday period were low for local businesses.

Sixty-four per cent of those polled said they expected lower revenues for the 2010/11 season compared to the 2008/09 pre-Olympic season and eight per cent of businesses expected to reap higher revenues than they did two years ago.

"I think that's because they still feel quite cautious and perhaps unsure about the global trends out there and how that impacts international and regional tourism markets," said Chamber president Fiona Famulak.

"I think that's the feeling out there.

"Therefore by default I think they are feeling that there is a better chance to reap results over a longer six-month winter season as opposed to a 10-day holiday season."

However, said Famulak, the poll results must be viewed with some caution as only 52 businesses out of the Chamber's 800 or so members completed the online survey, which ran from Dec.15 through Dec. 22nd.

It's hoped that many more members will participate in the on-going surveys as the Chamber continues its information gathering.

A second survey is currently being circulated focusing on what businesses would like to focus on in training.

It's likely the ever-changing online travel market combined with evidence of a more tight-fisted visitor over the past few years has had an effect on the psychology of the Whistler businesses polled.

The survey asked businesses to outline the most common challenges facing their individual sectors.

Seventy per cent of those in Whistler's accommodation industry said a lack of advanced bookings had become a major challenge. That was followed by in-resort competition and taxes/regulatory fees, which tied at sixty per cent.

"I think most of our businesses are aware that most of our guests are booking later than they have in the past, and that's a business challenge that our members need to acknowledge and manage accordingly, so it's just a phenomenon of the market right now," said Famulak.

"The second challenge is in resort competition - once we get the guests here that is also a challenge.

"It's also a learning (opportunity) for the Chamber that perhaps we need to develop some training or education around how does a business differentiate itself from its competition once the guests come to town? So that's something that has given us some good information to think about."

In food and beverage, 75 per cent of those who participated in the survey said in-resort competition was their biggest obstacle, trailed by cost of marketing and communications and leasing rates. Fees associated with marketing and communications were tied with taxes and regulatory fees at 80 per cent as the most common concern facing the retail sector, followed by a 63 per cent focus on lease and energy costs.

Tourism Whistler's aggressive international and national marketing strategy focuses on various aspects that set the resort apart from the rest.

"We're a four season resort, which makes us stand out, and our summer business has always been one of the leading factors for Whistler," said Arlene Schieven, vice-president of marketing for Tourism Whistler.

"Every market has their key area that resonates with them the most so we use our research to determine how best to speak to those markets and, overall, I think for this year in particular our approach was to really showcase the resort in a visual way, so we used lots of video and marketing materials to show the resort and the sense of celebration that was here during the games that carries on always."

Famulak said businesses are being encouraged to market their individual specialties the same way the resort is promoted globally.

"It's important for the resort as a whole to differentiate (itself) from its competition, which is what Tourism Whistler is doing as part of the overall marketing to the world," continued Famulak.

"Likewise, in-resort I think it's important for the individual businesses to identify how they are different from their competition and to market that unique distinction over the other. It's the same thing. One is at a macro level and one is at a micro level."

Other survey findings revealed that minimum wage is only paid by the food and beverage sector and 53 per cent of the businesses that completed the survey said they'd prefer the BC government "implement a regular increase to minimum wage based upon a clear and predictable formula."

Thirty per cent of businesses surveyed anticipate an impact on their business if minimum wage is increased, while 70 per cent do not anticipate any business impact.

Information collected will be woven into the WCC's 2011 training program for members.