By Andrew Mitchell
Whistler’s reputation for recreation is well-established, but recently the local tourism industry has taken a harder look at the potential for health and wellness.
Tourism Whistler recently wound down a health and wellness committee after a year and a half of discussions on how to tap into health and wellness markets, and is in the process of creating a health and wellness working group to put the committee’s ideas into practice.
“It’s quite broad in context,” said Arlene Shieven, vice president of marketing for Tourism Whistler. “The goal is to start advertising Whistler as a health and wellness community in the broadest sense of the word, and as a world-class alpine wellness destination.”
There are several components to the plan, from short term campaigns to promote spa products, to developing full packages that include recreational activities such as mountain biking and skiing with other wellness products such as yoga classes, spas, and health treatments.
“It’s definitely a growing market, the numbers are really strong worldwide, and the research we’ve done is also really positive,” said Schieven. “We already have a lot of the components in place, including a local population that is very healthy and fit.”
Another component is the creation and enhancement of health and wellness events, such as Whistler Wellness Week.
The second annual WWW is scheduled for May 5-13 and includes a full slate of seminars and speakers, health and wellness classes, specials at spas, and a full day Wellness Fair and trade show that is open to the public.
According to Whistler Wellness founder Glen Iles, the festival has taken on a life of its own after just one year.
“The level of interest this year has been fantastic, and a great build over the foundation we laid in the first year,” he said. “It’s quite interesting for me in terms of the presenters that have contacted me from outside of Whistler that are interested in participating in this event. And at the same time the community of practitioners and wellness providers in Whistler recognize the benefits of the event and are fully supporting and endorsing it.”
Iles says the time is right for Whistler to start promoting itself as a health and wellness destination.
“Around the world, in general, people are just becoming more aware and wellness is getting into people’s consciousness in a variety of different ways — sometimes it’s just wellness in general, sometimes it’s fitness or weight loss, sometimes it’s spirituality. And that timing has been great in terms of what we’re trying to do in Whistler with all the amenities we have — the mountains, the mountain air, all the trails, and all the things we do.”
Iles says Whistler’s wellness community is homegrown for the most part, built with local support. Hotels have also participated, with the result that Iles says Whistler has a greater range of spas than most other wellness destinations. In addition, the lifestyle has attracted a lot of wellness practitioners that form the backbone of the wellness industry.
Iles came up with the idea for hosting a Wellness Week two years ago talking to local business owner Scott Carrell. At the time the resort was going through a rough patch.
“We were discussing the situation, and we arrived at the idea that Whistler is an incredible wellness destination, and that there was a tremendous opportunity to position ourselves as such to the rest of the world,” said Iles. “With my background in hotels I kept seeing these resorts popping up calling themselves wellness resorts. They were in places like Arizona and California and Costa Rica, yet Whistler has everything to offer that these resorts have plus some. We’re really a complete destination in that sense.”
The challenge now is to position the resort as a wellness destination, Iles adds. Events like Wellness Week help by attracting attention from far and wide, as do other wellness inspired events like Women’s Week and the Every Woman in the World Conference.
One of the biggest opportunities will come this summer through a six-day mediation workshop hosted by Deepak Chopra, an internationally renowned author and doctor who has combined his background as a medical doctor with the wellness and spiritual teachings from his native India. Chopra’s partner for several books, Dr. David Simon, will also be on hand.
According to Iles this is the first time that Chopra will host a meditation week in Canada, and it came about through Whistler Wellness.
According to Schieven, there is a lot of untapped opportunity. On March 20, Tourism Whistler will be hosting an open workshop on health and wellness, and developing a strategy for promoting the resort as a wellness destination. The time will be finalized next week.