Uneven exchange rates rile visitors Most businesses depart from WRA rate By Chris Woodall Visitors are growing increasingly angry over Whistler businesses that ignore the Whistler Resort Association's recommended exchange rate on U.S. dollars. Visitors have solid grounds to complain: a large number of Whistler businesses do not offer exchange rates any where near the official rate, Pique Newsmagazine discovered from a randomly conducted survey. Instead, hotel, restaurant, retailer and night club rates are frequently 10 percentage points or more below exchange rates offered by bank/credit union rates that have hovered about 45 per cent this week. This week's Whistler Resort Association exchange rate for the Yankee greenback is 40 per cent. Almost all Whistler businesses are members of the Whistler Resort Association and are, as part of being a member, encouraged to go along with a weekly rate posted by the WRA. "It's an important issue for the guest," says new WRA president Suzanne Denbak. "Our research shows the guest experience is enhanced if the exchange rate is consistent." The WRA can only ask that businesses look at the big picture. "We respect the right of the owner to price their products, if we offer a consistent exchange rate we'll see an increase in over-all resort spending," Denbak says. The value American and United Kingdom visitors get from a lower Canadian dollar is a strong marketing tool used by the WRA in its overseas sales efforts. But that tool is substantially blunted when guests arrive here to find another story. "It's a very important part of our marketing campaign, so it's very important for the resort to deliver on that promise," Denbak says. The Chamber of Commerce acknowledges that visitors have been complaining of Whistler's uneven, and in visitors' eyes unfair, rates of exchange. The chamber says it doesn't have a number of just how many complaints have been registered, but they are enough that the chamber and the WRA are concerned. "It's an ongoing concern," says Chamber President Ron Hosner. "I realize there's a bookkeeping cost to the business owner to take American funds," Hosner says, but it only hurts the resort in the end. The visitor may only come to Whistler once, but a bad experience will be told to all their friends when the get back home, Hosner says. "We do so much to get them here, and then we do something to annoy them when they get here," Hosner says. But even the WRA's posted rate shaves a few points off the bank rates, making any deviation from the WRA rate by a Whistler company an even worse deal for American visitors buying goods, services and accommodation here. Twenty-one companies were randomly chosen in this week’s survey to cover eight types of business, but only six offered the WRA's suggested 40 per cent exchange rate. Of the 15 others, 14 offered lower than 40 per cent rates — 66 per cent of the businesses surveyed. Just one company — The Escape Route — offered a rate (45 per cent) equal to the current bank rate. The rate offered for American cash at the North Shore Credit Union on Tuesday, June 23, was 1.4519 Canuck bucks for every U.S. dollar. The WRA's rate is determined once a week, then published Monday and Thursday in the Whistler Question newspaper. According to information published in that newspaper, the 40 per cent rate has been in effect since Thursday, June 18. The rate had been 38 per cent from April 23 to June 16. Before April 23 the rate had been 36 per cent. The WRA calculates its exchange rate by averaging the rates posted by Whistler's branches of the North Shore Credit Union, Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Royal Bank. The WRA then slices off a few points and notifies the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, which then notifies its members of the current rate. WRA members — they are often members of the Chamber, too — can phone the WRA anytime to learn the current exchange rate. The WRA acknowledges that it trims the bank/credit union exchange rate to give retailers and other businesses a chance to cover costs of handling American money. The theory behind the WRA's posted rate is to assure visitors that they can expect to get that one rate at any place in town that is a member of the WRA. Such is rarely the case. Pique Newsmagazine conducted the survey on Monday, June 22, so that all company rates were from the same time period. To be fair to some companies, it might be assumed that those that said their rate is 38 per cent had not shifted their number from the 38 per cent rate the WRA had posted the previous week. The results, collected simply by phoning the business and asking, are: Among hotels — Chateau Whistler (38%), Delta Whistler Resort Hotel (30%), Delta Whistler Village Suites (35%), Radisson Blackcomb Suites (37%), Marriott-Residence Inn (37%), Shoestring Lodge (25%). The Resort Municipality of Whistler's Meadow Park Sports Centre offers 38%. Among photo shops — Whistler One Hour Foto Source (30%), Slalom One Hour Photo (35%). Among clothiers — Roots (40%), Snowberries (40%). Among outdoors sports shops — The Escape Route (45%), Can-Ski (38%), Blackcomb Adventure Centre (40%). Whistler/Blackcomb offers a 40% rate for lift tickets. The Adventure Centre and Merlin’s are owned by Whistler/Blackcomb, which may explain the same rate offered at the three entities. Among restaurants — McDonald's (35%), Bear Foot Bistro (35%), Caramba (40%). Among night clubs — Merlin's (40%), Citta (30%), Longhorn Saloon (35%). If foreign visitors run out of Canadian money they should use their credit cards for all purchases, says John Nadeau, manager of the local branch of the North Shore Credit Union. Credit card companies have daily rates that are close to what banks offer, but in any case will be more consistent than what merchants offer, Nadeau says. Card companies charge merchants three or four percentage points on all sales made with the credit card, which means the merchant doesn't get the difference between the bank rate and the WRA recommended rate. Currency exchange companies may offer a better deal to visitors than dealing with merchants, too. The Custom House Currency Exchange has five Whistler locations. It was buying American money at 1.4011, selling it at 1.5125, on Tuesday, June 23. While a currency exchange house has a wider spread than banks/credit unions between what it pays for foreign currency and what it sells the currencies at, a currency exchange house will deal in a wider range of monies than just U.S. dollars.