MAIN— WRA takes small step on information highway SUB- No decision yet on Internet involvement By Glen Watson The Whistler Resort Association has embarked on a multi-media business venture with BC Tel and Nexus Display systems in hopes of creating more revenue for the association and providing destination tourists with more information about the WRA's members. WRA vice-president Jim Watson says the Discover Whistler venture is another way to keep the cost of membership in the association down. He cites increasing costs and expanded marketing to such places as Mexico as examples of the need to look at new methods of generating revenue. "The WRA definitely has a challenge. Nobody wants the rates to go up," he says. An attempt to raise the membership fee by 3.5 per cent a few years ago met with strong resistance. In 1994, the sales and marketing expenditures were $2.6 million, up from $1.44 million in 1989. The Whistler Conference Centre generated net revenues of $102,000 for the WRA in 1994, while the Whistler Golf Course created net revenues of $707,000 last year. The arrival of the Discover Whistler program was recently marked by a catered affair in the conference centre with several speeches and other pitter patter by sales staff, most of whom were shipped up from Vancouver for the event. Discover Whistler will provide computer information kiosks and local television channels as part of a joint tourism initiative by BC TEL Advanced Communications and Nexus Display Systems, in conjunction with the WRA. The WRA provides Discover Whistler with a list of WRA members, complete with phone numbers and addresses, to put on the kiosks free of charge. If a viewer scrolls through the many menus and touches the screen on the name of a certain business the phone number and address appear. Discover Whistler's sales representatives say the average amount of time spent watching the kiosks is 2.5 minutes. These representatives are now approaching Whistler businesses about paying to have more elaborate display packages created for them. One sales representative said a full-motion video would cost about $300 to produce and the advertiser pays $50 per kiosk to have the video played. There is a five dollar charge, per page, for any changes to the text. Discover Whistler currently has five kiosks in Whistler and plans to have more. The kiosks may also have the ability to print maps, directing people to specific businesses, and issue tickets for skiing, events and other activities in Whistler. The WRA reports more than 1.4 million visitors come to Whistler annually, based on figures for the last two seasons. Watson believes this form of advertising will reach those destination tourists currently missed by other types of advertising. Businesses may also choose to be seen on guest channels in several Whistler Hotels. They would be billed on a monthly rate per room. A 60 second ad would be 30 cents per room. In the Chateau Whistler, which has 343 rooms, this adds up to $102.90 to be seen in one hotel per month, plus production costs. Watson says the WRA Board of Directors decided the impact of Discover Whistler on other advertising vehicles in Whistler, such as hotel directories, newspapers and radio, is minimal. Whistler Cable television currently offers advertisers a similar advertising channel, which can be seen in any home, hotel or property which subscribes to cable. Watson says discussions with Whistler Cable owner Manny Saperstein have taken place and may lead to the cable company being involved in the venture. While Discover Whistler repeatedly uses the term Information Highway, BC Tel spokesperson Debra Hamilton says there are currently no plans to include access to the Internet through the kiosks. The WRA has yet to decide who will provide its Internet service, although BC TEL has quietly been moving into this area over the past month. Watson has meetings and presentations planned with several Internet service providers this month regarding the WRA's future involvement, but he says there is no rush. Other resorts, such as Vail, have had no financial success with this technology despite putting several hundred thousand dollars into it.