While Whistler may have accomplished global brand recognition thanks to the Winter Olympic Games, there's nothing quite like a global economic meltdown to take the sheen off your afterglow. Especially when you discover that your enduring reputation is as an expensive place to visit.
"Price is what you pay," says Warren Buffett, the recession-proof Oracle of Omaha. "Value is what you get."
And Whistler guests aren't getting it.
Value for money consistently ranks the lowest of any category on Whistler visitor satisfaction surveys. In boom times, one could shrug this off. "Well, we're number one. What do you expect?" Not now.
The fault-lines from capitalism's drunken bender continue to send shears and tremors around the world. Local awls are getting a workout, punching new holes in belts as the hits keep coming, HST, pay parking, property tax hikes, Hydro rates on the rise.
Canadians suddenly find themselves in the bizarre position of having a debt-to-income ratio higher than Americans'. Consumer debt is growing faster than income. (Didn't anyone get the memo?) If interest rates move up or house prices drop, the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has warned it is likely to trigger a spate of personal and corporate bankruptcies. How far things can continue to stretch before they snap, no one knows.
But we all know this: there's no longer any such thing as business as usual.
A month ago, American Express commissioned a report from Europe-based consumer insight and trends consultants The Future Laboratory to find out what is going on.
The official response: "Consumers across the world are changing, reassessing a model of capitalism that has driven unparalleled growth in the world's economy over the last 50 years."
We're flying into an uncertain future, two generations blind.
"The global economy faces an unprecedented series of challenges over the next decade as it recovers from financial shock," claims the report.
A decade long recovery?
82 per cent of American consumers believe we are still in a recession and 54 per cent believe the economy will be the same or worse in a year's time. We're not looking for quick fixes anymore. It's time to dig in for the long haul. And to pay real attention to our consumers, the guests who say "meh."
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The challenge with "value" is that it's like pornography: you know it when you see it.
Price does matter. Coupon redemption, according to Brand Key's Customer Loyalty and Engagement Index earlier this year, is up 25 per cent. But value is not just about price. The well-established correlation between price and "objective quality," means that often, the more we pay, the better quality we presume something to be.