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Pique n' your interest

Wake up and smell the demographics

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We saw a little of that this winter when, after a painfully slow start to the season (despite lots of snow), the mountains and accommodation sector finally started to offer more sales, discounts and package deals to customers. Hotels, restaurants and shops filled up overnight, putting employees back to work and giving owners a reason to pull their heads out of the oven.

Even our golf courses have realized the benefits of offering special rates for B.C. residents – it’s better to have 50 people on the course paying $100 a head than 25 people paying $200 if everyone buy balls, tees and beverages at the pro shop.

Maybe Whistler has been told that it’s number one so many times that we started to believe our own hype, and arrogantly assumed that we were above the economic realities of the day. Maybe we thought the owners of those $3 million chalets and a ringing endorsement by Condé Nast Traveller would bail us out.

Either way we were wrong, and we’re slowly waking up to that fact.

A few years ago middle class Americans used to laugh at our prices because of the favourable exchange rate. Now that our dollar is higher those same visitors are finally realizing that it’s actually kind of expensive here. Maybe even a little overpriced. I’ve heard the word "gouging" used from time to time.

Not that I blame local businesses for milking our guests at every turn, considering the obscene rents they’re paying. Nor can you blame the commercial landlords, because they believe they’re only charging what the market will bear. Sadly it’s going to take a few Going Out of Business signs and empty storefronts to change that.

It’s a vicious cycle, and it all started when it was decided to make Whistler into an exclusive resort. But while that decision was great for real estate, it wasn’t so good for most businesses.

I’ve never seen Bill Gates rip down the bike park, grab a hot dog at Zogs, and pick up some new tubes at Evolution or Fantayk Co before heading back up the lift. I’ve never seen Steve Jobs and Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia drop into the pipe, then head to the lodge for chili and banana bread. Queen Elizabeth II has yet to go canoeing down the River of Golden Dreams. Warren Buffet has not taken an ATV or snowmobile tour, or signed on with ZipTrek or Whistler Bungee.