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Cultural tourism inventory underway

Cornucopia of cultural experiences ‘surprises and delights’ consultant



After 10 days touring Whistler, Steven Thorne won't comment on "what is missing" from Whistler's cultural experience.

"My analysis of Whistler's cultural tourism assets is just beginning. It's premature at this time to talk about what is missing," he wrote to Pique in an e-mail interview.

He did write, however, that he was "surprised and delighted" by the "cornucopia of arts, heritage and cultural experiences" that Whistler has to offer, particularly the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, Whistler Museum, the village and Function Junction, which he said "offers the cultural visitor a different kind of 'patina' than the village."

Thorne is a cultural tourism consultant hired by the municipality under the Cultural Tourism Development Plan (CTDP) to help strengthen Whistler's tourism economy by weaving its arts, culture and heritage experiences into a "place-based" tourism destination, where visitors experience the history and heritage of the place - the culture, the people, the stories, etc.

During a presentation at the MY Place Theatre on June 22, Thorne was unable to comment specifically on what Whistler needs to work on to boost its terroir , or cultural character. Several members of the crowd, including Councillor Tom Thomson, asked if a second meeting could be held toward the end of Thorne's stay so the public could hear and discuss Thorne's findings. That meeting was never held.

According to Thorne's place-based destination approach, there are five "cultural tourism clusters": human heritage, agriculture and industrial heritage, the arts, cuisine and natural history. Using these five elements, the destination must "weave a tapestry of place" by wrapping "lead experiences," "supporting experiences," and "sustaining experiences" into a marketable package that will appeal to cultural tourists.

The first step of the process is to inventory what Whistler has to offer then categorize what is lead, supporting and sustaining. Whistler is now on that first step.

While Whistler does have some destinations that qualify under all the elements, it's Whistler's natural history that is most obvious to visitors, even though most tourists come for the sport. Thorne wouldn't comment specifically on how the municipality can harness the natural elements into something cultural as well as physical.

"The key to intriguing cultural travelers in the natural history of Whistler lies in how effectively nature is interpreted," he wrote.

"Provided they are well interpreted, most natural history experiences will appeal to most cultural travelers."

Thorne would not comment on how he plans to "interpret" these natural historical elements, nor would he divulge what the lead, supporting or sustaining experience may be. Instead, he asked that all further inquiries be directed to the municipality.

"It's not a question of divulging confidence," said John Rae, manager of strategic alliances for the RMOW. "It's probably just a question of him not having that dialed yet."

Rae said he would be "startled" if Thorne didn't have a major sport component and a major live music component in his plan.

He added that "it will be safe to assume" that the RMOW will need to "invest in new programming," and they are contemplating music festivals with big-name acts, public art galleries, guided walking tours with story-tellers and a more pronounced live theatre environment.

Rae stressed that the CTDP, and Thorne's place-based approach to achieving that plan, is not about replacing anything in Whistler, but rather "consolidating" the cultural experiences it already has. Thorne has been hired to facilitate this process.

"What we're looking for from him is an assurance that we do have inventory, and right and reason to celebrate Whistler as a place, in its entirety, and to celebrate Whistler that, no matter what day of the year, there's going to be a reason for you to get here," Rae said.

The CTDP is being led by the RMOW and funded through Whistler's Cultural Capitals of Canada Award, a federal government grant. The CTDP aims to strengthen the arts, cultural and heritage sector as articulated within Whistler2020.

"Whistler's ski resort industry wasn't built overnight," Thorne wrote Pique . "Whistler's cultural tourism industry won't be either."