Marketing Whistler in the post-Olympic winter is supposed to be a problem other resorts would kill for. And, in fact, Whistler is in a better position than a lot of places.
But it's more complicated than you might think, once you get down to the various organizations and interests that collectively make up Whistler.
The last couple of years have been very tough for anyone in the accommodation business. Hotel rates everywhere have spiraled down in concert with the economy. Individual consumers, meanwhile, have decided to curb their spending and manage their debts.
The result, as tourism consultant Peter Yesawich told a Whistler audience in October, is people are now programmed to wait for things to go on sale. Everyone is motivated to get the best deal - it's almost become a badge of honour. And there are an increasing number of tools to help consumers find the best deal.
One consequence of this growing number of online bargain-hunting tools and the stubborn recession is that more and more people are waiting until the last minute to book vacations. That not only makes it hard for people in the tourism business - i.e. Whistler - to plan, it can also lead to price undercutting.
Whistler went through this a couple of years ago with overseas tour operators. Tour operators have to buy their Whistler winter vacations in the spring and summer. They spend the fall selling these vacation packages to consumers. But by the time the vacationers got to Whistler in the winter of 2008-09 hotels had cut rates substantially below what tour operators had charged their clients. Tour operators weren't happy, their clients weren't happy and the hotels weren't happy. But that's what hotels felt they had to do to survive at the time.
This summer, following the Olympics and with the economy apparently in recovery, the board of Tourism Whistler - which is dominated by representatives from the accommodation sector - decided it was time to try and rebuild the destination market that had stayed away from Whistler (and other resort destinations) over the previous two years. The plan was to follow a model the airlines have used: establish the best rates early to build a base of bookings. Tell people they will get their best deal if they book by a particular date. After that date the prices go up.
But it only works if everyone sticks to the plan.
Whistler Blackcomb needs to get skiers on the mountains. One of the ways they are doing that is through tactical flash sales, with rates below what Tourism Whistler "guaranteed" as the best prices.
You can see both sides of this conflict. Every resort in the world is having trouble winning back destination visitors. Vacationers are searching for the best deals, so why shouldn't Whistler Blackcomb compete for these people?
At the same time, Tourism Whistler - with a budget that's shrinking rather than growing - made the strategic decision to focus on the long term and spend its dollars trying to rebuild the destination market with stable base rates. In retrospect, it may have been too early to attempt this, but it was a bold decision made by the Tourism Whistler board with all of its collective expertise in the accommodation business.
Now, to be clear, Tourism Whistler hasn't put all its eggs in the destination market basket. There's some funding for regional marketing, and individual hotels and Whistler Blackcomb also market regionally. But with funding from Tourism B.C. drying up and sponsorship deals ending, Tourism Whistler's dollars are stretched.
Moreover, making the best use of those dollars requires some coordination and buy-in from all of Whistler. The multitude of organizations and interests that collectively make up Whistler are of little interest to most visitors. They only know "Whistler" and what they are paying.
Or what they could have paid.