Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest




There's a lot of talk about diversification these days, but the recent report by the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) committee makes a few things pretty clear.

The first is that this resort's economic activity, $1.3 billion of it a year, relies heavily on destination visitors who account for roughly 68 per cent of those revenues. Regional visitors account for another 19 per cent and permanent residents — some 10,000 of us — account for eight per cent of that total.

It's also telling where the money is being spent. The largest slice of the pie goes to restaurants and pubs at 30 per cent — 33 per cent if you include entertainment and nightclubs. But Recreation and Comparison Goods (think snowmobile tours, lift tickets and ski rentals) is 25 per cent while Convenience Goods and Services (think groceries and spas) is another 21 per cent for a combined total of 46 per cent.

It's also clear that the resort is configured for tourism, a little too much. Put simply, far too many hotel beds have been built to reliably fill, and there's too much short-term tourist rental accommodation for the demand.

Consider: there are roughly 10,000 permanent residents, between 2,000 and 4,000 additional transient workers depending on the time of year and probably 12,000 second homeowners for a total of roughly 25,000 beds. At the same time we have something like 54,000 beds already built, according to the municipality — and will have over 61,000 if and when we reach build-out.

That's a lot of beds to fill, and the result is some of the lowest priced accommodation you'll find anywhere. Supply completely dwarfs the demand.

The thing is, when we talk about economic diversification — the hot topic of the day as we plan for a better, more stable economy — everyone seems to be talking about different things.

For people who are responsible for filling all of those extra beds as often as possible, diversification is about adding more reasons for people to come to Whistler outside of the usual skiers and mountain bikers/golfers: more events, more conferences, more attractions and more good reasons for people to travel here and stay for an extended period of time.

For locals who live here — many of whom are now paying mortgages at Rainbow and Cheakamus Crossing — diversification means more opportunity: more interesting, higher paying jobs that reflect our high education levels and middle class aspirations, and more job security than you can get in a cyclical industry like tourism, that's at the mercy of every economic downturn and our increasingly unpredictable weather. Our population is also aging, the census shows, and people are starting to think about what happens in the next 20 to 30 years when many of us will retire.