One Whistler to work for resort’s future By Bob Barnett "We’re here to effect change. This is an action committee." That was Whistler Resort Association President Suzanne Denback’s summary of One Whistler – Partners for the Future, a recently formed committee comprised of key Whistler community players. Among the changes the group plans to effect are a renovation of the conference centre, building a new Welcome Centre and creation of a visual arts festival, which will take place next spring. One Whistler’s objective is to "secure Whistler’s competitive position as the leading four-season resort destination in the world," according to a release. Maintaining that position is likely going to require more collective efforts in the years ahead, as competition for visitors increases and Whistler takes the next step in its evolution, from a developing ski town to an established resort. The WRA, the municipality, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Whistler/Blackcomb, Intrawest and the accommodation and commercial sectors are represented on One Whistler. Representatives signed a memorandum of understanding Nov. 5. "We felt that collectively we could be stronger as a group than as individuals," said Doug Forseth, senior vice president of Operations for Whistler/Blackcomb. "We want to be a success in the future," said Dave Davenport, the commercial representative on One Whistler. "Collectively this group can achieve a lot. We’ve seen it already." The members of One Whistler have been meeting for the past four months, developing strategies to deal with four key initiatives the group has identified. The initiatives are: o Enhancing service quality and training o Development of the Whistler product o Integrated and targeted marketing and sales o Identification of new sources of funding "We didn’t know what the initiatives would be when we sat down," Forseth said. "These are just the first four." In sporting parlance, it’s often said that once you get to the top you have to work twice as hard to stay on top. The formation of One Whistler seems to reflect that idea. The resort no longer garners attention for being "new" to international visitors. Moreover, as Whistler approaches buildout the physical growth which has been a major part of the local economy for years — including revenue for the municipality and the WRA — is starting to slow and will, at some point, come to a halt. At the same time some of the areas and buildings of the original village are in need of upgrade. One of the tasks identified under the product development initiative is developing a master plan for upgrading the conference centre to increase shoulder season and summer conference business. Denback says she would like to have an architect in place for the project by the end of the year. "There’s great potential for conference business," Denback said. The WRA has for several years been reserving funds for the day when the conference centre roof has to be replaced. Denback says those funds won’t cover the whole cost of the renovation. The group will look at the 2 per cent hotel tax as one possible source of funds and will address the issue in the WRA’s 1999 budget. Other projects identified by the product development initiative include: a co-ordinated, consistent system of signs throughout the valley; a welcome/information centre that creates a sense of arrival in the resort; integration of all resort information kiosks; assisting in the growth and development of Whistler’s cultural product, including development of a local visual arts festival in the spring of 1999. The chamber of commerce is leading the initiative to enhance service quality and training for new and existing employees. The group is completing an inventory of current educational and training programs and trying to determine what service and training gaps exist and what programs will be needed in the future. "Our long-term goal is to achieve a level of service beyond other resorts," said Whistler Chamber of Commerce President Ron Hosner. The marketing and sales initiative includes conducting an inventory of current marketing efforts by all major Whistler organizations and developing a more co-ordinated and integrated marketing strategy. "We’ve always had strong external (marketing) partners," said Barrett Fisher, vice president of marketing for the WRA. "We want to develop marketing and sales partnerships within the resort." More vacation packages will be developed around things such as conference sales, golf and big name entertainers. The fourth initiative, funding, is an issue that both the municipality and the WRA will be facing in the years ahead. The group is attempting to identify all available avenues of funding for new business development and future community needs. The short-term action plan includes developing a joint planning approach to the 2 per cent resort tax, identifying sources of government funding, developing a framework and sharing formula for resort-wide sponsorship and development of a community foundation, something the municipality set in motion last week. The municipality has also been putting together a case for tax reform and revenue sharing to present to the provincial government. As for sponsorships, the group feels "Whistler" has become a brand name and that could be a source of revenue.