Whistler has spent 40 years developing its snow sports, biking, golf and outdoor recreation tourism base, but now it's time to start investing in another tourism sector: arts, culture and heritage.
Festivals, events and animation will be key factors in increasing visitor numbers in the future and the municipality is not holding back in its plans. According to John Rae, the RMOW is currently exploring the possibility of hosting residency programs with Berklee College in Boston and hosting a jazz festival over the Labour Day weekend, dubbed Jazz on the Mountain. They are also already "building relationships" with "high-profile brands" like the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Cirque Du Soleil, while trying to ensure that the programming remains unique to Whistler and "nurturing home-grown concepts and programs."
This plan, much of which is contingent on the province agreeing to continue the hotel tax transfer of funds, grew out of Whistler's cultural tourism development strategy.
Approximately $60,000 from Whistler's 2009 Cultural Capital funding ($500,000) was set aside for the creation of a Whistler Arts Culture and Heritage plan, which would provide a plan for the artistic community leading up to 2020. The report, entitled "A Tapestry of Place - Whistler's Cultural Tourism Development Strategy," was compiled by cultural tourism consultant, Stephen Thorne. Preliminary findings were presented to the media Monday.
Since Thorne's 80-page report is "proprietary" and contains "valuable competitive information," the RMOW has only released a five-page synopsis of the findings. The full report will be made available in the first quarter of 2011 once it is presented to council.
Now, the RMOW is in the process of examining Thorne's feasibility study, which includes short-, medium- and long-term recommendations, and trying to figure out what those findings mean for the community.
As the synopsis states: "This strategy is a first step; it's essentially a feasibility study; it is not the final plan. In taking this first step, Whistler is able to reflect on its past and present; its achievers and achievements; its visions and visionaries and recognize the opportunity to become a major cultural tourism destination."
RMOW communications manager, Michele Comeau, said the report contains "lots of interesting findings." Those findings include three key recommended short- and medium-term actions: "product development," which requires the completion of the inventory of cultural experiences, the identification of additional cultural experiences and the composition of "Whistler's tapestry of place" in its entirety; a "community cultural planning process," which includes assessment of the infrastructure needs of the arts, culture and heritage sector, formalization of municipal policies, practices and programs that nurture cultural development, and capacity-building for those sectors; and the creation of a "cultural tourism coordinating committee" to ensure place-based tourism informs current discussions that impact the community's planning and decision-making, and that recommendations are implemented in a timely manner.