Opinion » Editorial

Holidays, a good time to reflect on what really matters



Presents to buy, the tree to trim, kids to carpool, Christmas cards to write and post (yes, I still write cards!), keep everything going at work, bake for an army, more shopping... whew, the holidays are exhausting!

Hmm... What's wrong with this picture? When did the spirit of Christmas go missing? The holidays are supposed to be the time to take a break, be with family, and, yes, exchange heart-felt gifts.

So take a moment to walk outside and get grounded. Neighbourhood homes are decorated, their lights twinkling and brightening grey skies. The village Christmas lights are a spectacle on their own — it's impossible to walk around Whistler and not feel the spirit of the season.

This is a time of the year when we should slow down and really treasure the friends and family we have around us, and take some time to think about how fortunate we are.

Yes, it's true we live in a place where we don't get to vacation at the same time as everyone does — while travellers are here taking my advice — Whistler residents and workers are for the most part getting little or no time with family and friends.

But if we want the visitor to embrace the holiday spirit we really need to as well.

There can be little doubt that the stress of the holidays for local workers — and missing the magical feeling of Christmas that one can really only get from stepping off the treadmill — can have an impact on everyone's joie de vivre. So it's especially important to stop and consciously think about it. Don't just let it rush by.

People come to Whistler to escape — they come to connect to authentic experiences and people. Of course, travellers are looking for great skiing, great food and great times, but Whistler is also about offering that almost quintessential Christmas atmosphere. We want travellers to feel special, unique, as if we have let them in on a secret, a secret that we know all about and want to share because we get to live here.

On average, according to the Economic Partnership Initiative Report the municipal government commissioned in Oct. 2013, visitors represent half of the daily population of Whistler and 85 to 90 per cent of consumer spending is generated by visitors. Destination visitors create 43 per cent of Whistler's annual GDP impacts ($572M).

Part of that experience is the village atmosphere and all the shops and eateries and experiences you can find there. The debate around what that should look like has been going on as long as Pique has been in print — 20 years!

Let's think back to 2005 when the community was contemplating a 17,000 square-foot, two-storey London Drugs outlet in the Whistler Village Centre are of town. Some residents welcomed the idea, as it would provide access to shopping that the community didn't have.

But there was vocal opposition, including on municipal council, as there was a real concern that introducing big box-store type chains Whistler would lose its unique character. Yes, we have TNA, Artizia, multiple Starbucks, Roots, Eddie Bauer — so what was the big deal?

Without commenting specifically on London Drugs councillor Marianne Wade said in March 2005: "What I would say is that Whistler had a very clear vision with regards to the development of the core of the village so you wouldn't get the same shopping experience you would get in any commercial centre."

Added councillor Gord McKeever at the time: "You can replicate experiences like Starbucks or McDonald's 10 times over, but this will not make Whistler more unique. The more we look like a suburban shopping mall, the less reason there is to come here."

Why remind readers of these debates? To remind everyone that Whistler's uniqueness, it's eclectic selection of locally owned businesses, as well as the big brands is critically important to the success of the resort.

We learned last week that Summit Ski had been bought by Whistler Blackcomb, which also bought Affinity in 2013, and operates CanSki and more — it has 13 rental locations with more than 12,000 skis and boards for rent.

It has eateries and apres locations as well. WB could name them all the same thing. It could brand them more deeply if it wanted to. But it doesn't — I think for obvious reasons.

There has been a healthy discussion about the purchase in the community — most bemoaning the loss of another independently owned retailer in the village — though most everyone wishing the best for the majority owner and saluting over 27 years in business.

The concern is on many levels, not least of which is that WB as a corporation sends it profits out of Whistler, unlike locally owned businesses (let's also not forget that the community arm of WB, its foundation has supporting many organizations in Whistler and beyond with $8.5 million in donations).

But there is also the worry that every ski/ board outlet will carry the same goods, look the same, sound, and the corporate buying power is huge.

Their operations are also corporate in style. But In last week's Pique WB president and CEO Dave Brownlie said: "Summit is a great operation and a great brand and we plan on continuing it as is at this point."

Words to live by.