Opinion » Editorial

Change you'd better believe in



According to a recent New York Times story, many young Americans now of voting age, a group which was so instrumental in electing President Barack Obama four years ago, is "...significantly more likely to identify as conservative and cite a growing lack of faith in government in general, according to interviews, experts and recent polls." (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/02/us/politics/economy-cuts-into-obamas-youth-support.html?_r=1)

As significant as the political implications are (and in an election year political implications seem to be part of most New York Times stories), the larger point was that "...a new corps of men and women have come of voting age with views shaped largely by the recession." In other words, the economic uncertainty of the last four years has shaped the values of a new generation of American voters.

"Today, specifically, the youngest potential voters are more likely than their older peers to think it is important to protect individual liberties from government, the Harvard data suggest, and less likely to think it is important to tackle things like climate change, health care or immigration."

Now, the data and interviews the Times used were based on Americans who came of voting age in the last four years, in other words 18-22 year olds. But if the current period of economic uncertainty continues for another two or three years, as looks likely, it's not unreasonable to assume that many Americans currently15-17 years olds may grow up with similar values.

Certainly the recession and stagnant economy have affected all generations in countries around the world, but the impact of the last four years on younger people is likely to be greater and longer lasting. It's a generation that has only known extremely low interest rates and high debt levels. Their consumer habits include the expectation that they will find a better price on any purchase with a little online research.

This is the first generation that has lived in a digital world their whole lives. They expect to be able to tailor a solution to their problem or find an answer to their question on the Internet. According to Dan Coates of Youth Pulse (http://www.ypulse.com/), they don't discern sources of information. They are media grazers, looking for information that interests them and paying less attention to where the information comes from.

Some of this — such as growing allegiance to price rather than to brand — applies to all of us, not just young people. But it's significant because there are so many Millennials — people born since the mid-80s — coming of age. They are having and will have a huge influence for years to come.

So what does all this mean for a little town in the Coast Mountains? First of all, any thoughts that when the economy "recovers" things will return to the way they were prior to 2008 is delusional. The world around us is very different from what it was.

And so are people's attitudes and behaviours. Six years, to choose a number, of economic instability have an impact. It will alter priorities and interests, perhaps for life. It may be, for example, that a significant portion of the population that grew up with the recession just doesn't think about week-long vacations. For some, weekend getaways may be all the vacation they ever get.

And if it is, they won't want to go to the same place every long weekend. They will also expect resorts and hotels to be competing for their business with discounts and deals that can be compared online.

So maybe the way forward for Whistler and other mountain resorts ("way forward" meaning the long-term, economically sustainable path) is to focus on making mountains part of people's lives, rather than a place they go for a vacation. It's not a proposition that will appeal to everyone — it requires some effort to move around in and on mountains, they are prone to severe and frequent changes in the weather.

But then, we should realize we are not trying to appeal to everyone. One of the advancements that have come with the technological changes of the last decade is more focused marketing, as opposed to mass marketing. Instead of blitzing densely populated markets and appealing to the lowest-common denominator we can target people who understand the appeal of mountains, who know that mountains can be inspiring and rewarding.

There are tools and techniques to reach this generation that is "growing up" with the recession, but it will require a new approach and new thinking to appeal to them.