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There seems little doubt that most businesses in the village are having a tougher go of it than expected this year, and that things will probably get worse before they get better. For some that has meant and will mean locking the doors — few veterans of the Whistler retail and restaurant scene dispute that there is going to be a "period of adjustment." But that doesn’t mean the bottom is going to drop out. The problem at the moment is that the pace of development, principally in Village North, has been far faster than any rational person would have imagined. The increase in visitors/potential customers hasn’t kept pace. The provincial government, which sold the parcels in Village North at break-neck speed, holds some responsibility for that. So too do the developers who bought the parcels and built the hotel and retail space, although both will say they were responding to market demand. Veteran Whistler retailers and observers of the local development scene could see this situation coming — and can see that with another 1,200 hotel rooms coming on next winter, and additional retail space below most of those rooms, it’s going to be a few years before the ratio of visitors to retail space gets back to a some sort of sustainable level. The discount-drink Bar Wars that briefly broke out last week were an indication of the frustration the liquor licences feel. Whistler is over-licensed, at least for the current level of business in the village, one licencee said last week. The scary part is that there are licences in the Mont Blanc, Whistler Village Centre and the new brew pub that haven’t even opened yet. The Whistler Resort Association’s projections illustrate the problem. The number of room nights sold has increased about 6 per cent annually in recent years. The WRA hopes to boost that to 10-15 per cent annually. But there is going to be a 30-35 per cent increase in the number of rooms available in the next little while. The idea that a retail space, liquor licence or restaurant in the village is a licence to print money may finally be dying, but that’s no reason to give up. The situation calls for a creative approach, for merchants to get out and reach customers, rather than waiting for them to come in. The WRA has started in this direction by bringing retailers together to offer themed retail packages, to market directly to conventioneers and tour groups. Innovation has always been one of the hallmarks of great marketing efforts. A little more innovation could be used around the village.

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