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Former state senator sees Hawaiian parallel

Francis Wong urges community partners to continue with action plan



The Hawaiian islands are still benefiting from a growth plan that Francis Wong put in place.

That was a score of years ago now but the former Hawaiian state senator points to the plan as an example of how important it is for tourist destinations to adopt a vision, and a plan, and act as a community to remain successful.

In town for a private function Wong believes that the recent gatherings of community members organized by Affinity Sports owner Scott Carrell and marketing consultant Dave Halliwell are a must if Whistler is to survive these challenging times in tourism.

"Tourism is my business," said Wong, now the chairman and CEO of California based Genesis Hotel Development.

"And when I see things happening to Whistler it makes me sad because I have seen the glory days and I have seen the horizon and it can be glorious again, but it really needs the Scott Carrells of the world to push for what they are doing."

Wong supports Whistler 2020, the community’s sustainability plan, but believes Carrell’s and Halliwell’s call to action is necessary to help the CSP address on-going challenges such as the U.S.’s new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative which imposes new regulations for cross border travel.

"I think it is necessary (Carrell and Halliwell’s plan)," said Wong. "Whistler needs diversity to survive."

If there are more offerings in Whistler for the traveller then visitors to the destination might be enticed to spend one or two extra days and the extra money from those longer holidays will create a substantial boost to the economy said Wong.

That was a strategy Hawaii embraced.

Wong also pointed to the experience of Waikiki, which slowly lost all its locally owned shops due to rising rents and saw every corner sport a chain store. Soon tourists left too, as the retail experience began to fall short of their expectations.

Luckily, said Wong, the travellers simply went to other Hawaiian islands, so tourist revenue stayed within the state. But that is not likely to be the case in Whistler.

"We chased the people out of Waikiki, but at least we have another place in Hawaii for them to go to," said Wong, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Centre.

"I’m not sure we can chase them out of Whistler and still keep them in B.C."

That’s a pattern he’s concerned will be repeated here. This week another Starbucks will open in the Village Stroll.

As he walked around the village Wong was struck by the absence of retail shops and restaurants he used to enjoy when he visited his second home here between the late ’80s and 2004. Gone was Horstman Trading Company from the Upper Village and the Whistler Noodle House.

And he was constantly annoyed by the need to pay for parking everywhere he went.

"After 3 o’clock why is parking not free?" wondered Wong.

"Does the municipality really need all that money or could that money be better spent saying welcome to Whistler, come and enjoy yourself, go to the restaurants at night and park free?"

Wong still believes Whistler is a fantastic place to vacation and live, with a thriving community and a growing interest in arts, culture and sport with the hosting of the 2010 Olympic Games.

"There are a lot of good things happening here," he said.

But he believes that the retailers, accommodation providers, landlords, politicians and citizens of Whistler must get down to work if the resort is to reach its potential.

Said Wong: "I really love Whistler and I love coming back to Whistler and I just hate to see it not capitalizing of everything it has to offer now and leading up to the Olympics and beyond."