A decade already The Chateau Whistler celebrates its 10th anniversary this month By Andrew Mitchell For David Roberts, the general manager of the Chateau Whistler, his objectives were clear from day one: to create a hotel experience in the natural beauty of Whistler that rivals the finest hotels in the world. To become the preferred ski and golf destination of elite travellers from around the globe. To provide the business community with a conference atmosphere that keeps them coming back year after year. To put Whistler on the map, in the same league as Aspen, Vail and St. Moritz. At the time it was being built, the thinking was a little like a line out of Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." Now, on the eve of the Chateau Whistler's 10th anniversary, Roberts can look back on the steady rise of the hotel into a world class institution with some pride. They came all right. They came in droves. "Back in 1980, the village was still a dream," says Roberts. "There was virtually nothing there. Just a lot of planning, and hope, and aspirations. Today, we are known around the world as the number one ski resort in North America. As a part of the resort, the Chateau fills the niche for luxury accommodations and world-class service that many travellers from the U.S. and Europe have come to expect." Since Nov. 17, 1989 — the day the Chateau Whistler opened its doors to the world — the hotel has been a work in progress. In 1992, the Chateau opened an 18-hole golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Phase Two of the Chateau Whistler Resort opened in 1997, adding 227 guest rooms and 17,000 square feet of meeting space. Today, the Chateau boasts 516 rooms, 47 suites, and more than 28,000 square feet of meeting space. All of which was recently refinished. For Roberts, however, the biggest challenge is not to provide an elegant space to vacation or conduct business, but to provide guests with elegant service. In a many ways, says Roberts, the Chateau's reputation as one the leading hotels in the world is due to the quality of the 640 people who work there — a number which can go as high as 750 during the golf season. "We spend a lot of money every year training our staff to provide five star service," says Roberts. "We believe very strongly in providing excellent guest service, as do most of the resorts in the area, and the customers generally appreciate it. We get a lot of comments from our visitors that the people here are very nice, very helpful, and above all, very genuine. That, in my mind, is one of our strongest attributes." To mark the 10th anniversary and to thank past employees for helping to make the Chateau the hotel it is today, the Chateau is having a reunion party. More than 200 past employees have already signed on for the event, and for an opportunity to be given the kind of service that they themselves gave to guests during their stay. When Roberts looks at the success of the Chateau, he looks at the success of the Whistler resort as a whole: "We're not in competition with the other resorts in Whistler, but with Vail and Aspen. Because of us, and I mean the efforts of Whistler as a whole, they are having to work a lot harder to compete." Just as this community effort has been good for the Chateau, Roberts believes that the Chateau has been good for the community. Because of the Chateau's high profile as a place to hold meetings and conventions, restaurants, retail stores and recreational businesses can count on tourists all year round, says Roberts. "Our high profile around the world is evident in the type of clientele we are attracting. In a way, we've become synonymous with the rich and famous. That's becoming more and more evident in the kinds of shops and restaurants that have been opening in the village." In the past 10 years, the Chateau has been host to numerous celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Prince Edward, Wesley Snipes, Peter Jennings, Sarah McLaughlin, Vanessa Williams, Dennis Franz, Neil Simon and Pierce Brosnan. And the list goes on. "Celebrities come to the Chateau because we go out of our way to provide a service. They can hide away here, and we can guarantee their privacy. A lot of them keep coming back," says Roberts. The Chateau Whistler is partially owned and fully operated by Canadian Pacific Hotels, whose chain of luxury accommodations includes the Jasper Park Lodge, the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta, the Chateau Laurier and Royal York in Ontario, and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. The Chateau Whistler stands alone among these world-famous hotels, as the only Chateau-style hotel to be built in the 20th century. Less than two years after it was built, CP sold 80 per cent of the Chateau Whistler to Yamanouchi Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese company that desperately wanted to invest in Canada. CP owns the remaining 20 per cent, plus the right to run the hotel as they see fit. Although construction of the hotel went $15 million over budget, largely due to the huge volumes of concrete that were required, Roberts says that the sale to Yamanouchi, worth an estimated $100 million, was not an attempt to recoup losses, but to create a working partnership. "We have always had a great relationship with Yamanouchi," says Roberts. "At the time it made sense to maintain a management profile, while seeking a business partner that was in a position to increase our cash flow, but had no interest in running the day-to-day operations of our company. That money has since been used to upgrade the hotel and help CP to enlarge our management portfolio." It's a partnership that seems to be working. In past years, the Chateau Whistler has won numerous world's best awards, golf awards and convention awards. Recently, the Chateau won the right to be included in The Leading Hotels of the World handbook, which includes only the best of the best. This put the Chateau in the same league as such hotels as The Savoy in London, the Hotel Ritz in Paris and the Ritz-Carlton in New York. The Chateau may have come a long way in a short time from its humble beginnings, but its heart is still in the right place. At the grand opening of the Chateau, locals were invited to attend the celebration and stay a night in the hotel. That was the first celebration of what is now the annual Festival of Lights, a community event that raises money for local charities and puts Whistler in the Christmas spirit. Although the Chateau was to belong to the world, staying close to the Whistler community has always been a priority. The Chateau is active on the environmental committee, raises money for local schools, helps fund the RCMP's DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance and Education) program and recently donated a Zamboni to the Meadow Park ice rink. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Says Roberts: "We've always made a conscious effort to serve the community, to be a community player. We want the people of Whistler to feel that this is their hotel, and that they are always welcome here."