It may be hard to believe by the size of the boisterous crowd at last week's launch party for "Ask Me! I'm a Local," but Whistler's new program to connect residents with tourists started over a cup of coffee.
Janis McKenzie was talking with her friend from Toronto, Dan Perdue, eight months ago about the challenges Whistler has seen in recent years, like SARS, exchange rates, passports and the recession.
But they also talked about how great Whistler's strengths are, McKenzie recounted to more than 200 enthusiastic people on Thursday, Oct. 1, at the GLC.
"We talked about how we need to shift our focus from locals who have no control over a situation and can be a bit negative, to locals who can take control," she said.
McKenzie and Perdue decided a solution might rest in buttons that state: "Ask Me! I'm a local."
They envisioned a program where Whistlerites who wanted to make themselves available to visitors could wear large, colourful buttons on their clothing while going about their day-to-day lives. Tourists who saw the buttons could then approach the volunteers whenever they needed help.
"It is the small things that we do that are going to make the biggest difference for our guests," said McKenzie.
In April, she approached the Whistler 2020 Visitor Experience Task Force to see if anyone would be interested in the "Ask Me! I'm a Local" buttons, and the idea took off from there.
"It's overwhelming," exclaimed McKenzie the day after the launch party.
"Over 200 people showed up for the party last night and everyone is reconnecting with the roots of why they are in Whistler, why they chose Whistler as their home and the pride everyone has."
In fact, Whistler pride was visible at the launch party, which saw community members of all ages come out to listen to speeches, have a drink and socialize.
"I think it is a great idea," said Linda Marshall, a 26-year Whistler resident. "We already do this, but now we have a button."
Craig Smith, a 23-year Whistler resident and teacher, was equally enthusiastic.
"We are all locals who just want to share what we love very much," said Smith. "I like to provide information and take pictures for people."
McKenzie stressed the buttons aren't restricted to long time residents. Anyone who wants to connect with locals is welcome to sport the "Ask me!" buttons, and two training sessions will be provided in late October.
In total, 2,500 buttons will be made, and buttons will be available in English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese.
People interested in the program can continue to sign up for buttons at the program's website at www.askmeimalocal.com . Everyone who registers will be entered into a draw on Dec. 3 to win a Whistler Blackcomb season's pass worth $1,100.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb are funding the program, with support from Tourism Whistler, the Chamber of Commerce and Whistler 2020.