Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Diversification

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The municipality also has an interest in diversifying its revenue sources so it's less dependent on property taxes to cover its own aspirations and growing costs. Encouraging small businesses and startups that are unrelated to tourism is one way to do this, as well as unique initiatives like the community forest.

There are other good reasons for diversification, but the point is that we all have different and possibly incompatible ideas of what it should look like.

My own feeling is that diversification of our existing tourism economy will ultimately win out because it's an industry we understand, it's already driving our economy and we're not going to fill all those beds that are already there by opening a post-secondary school or encouraging high-tech startups. Not that these things shouldn't happen, they should and probably will, they just don't address the overriding issue of empty space.

How do we grow tourism? Getting people to stay longer and ride the mountains mid-week is a good start, but people in North America don't get holidays the way people do in Europe. Given the number of beds and level of development here already, I say it's time to go big.

I personally think we need a third mountain — Powder Mountain, developed using the minimalist Silverton model, would be a great option, but Rainbow Mountain makes more sense when it comes to keeping things central. I'd even be open to developing further into Garibaldi Park (hold the rotten tomatoes), providing we could come up with an arrangement where every square kilometre taken out of the park for skiing and other activities is replaced with two square kilometres of space along another border.

We also need to make things easier for our retailers, given how much economic activity they generate for the resort and how tough they have it. Rents are high, but they're market-driven and there's not much we can do about that.

Things we can control include the commercial tax rate (about 3.5 times higher for business owners than residents), business fees, Tourism Whistler fees and pay parking. Keeping the village clean and appealing to visitors is important, and Tourism Whistler does a great job marketing the resort and filling rooms, but there has to be a way to make things more affordable for an economic segment we currently rely on for about 46 per cent of our economic activity. Lowering the barriers to doing business will encourage more startups and a more diverse range of stores.

We can't turn back the clock and build fewer rental properties and hotels in the resort, or take steps to control commercial rents. But we can work to fix the industries that drive this resort before we diversify into something else.