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RMOW developing Whistler 101 seminars

Aimed at locals, free program will educate on Whistler's geodiversity, biodiversity, history and culture

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The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is developing a series of seminars aimed at beefing up residents' knowledge of the community and creating effective resort ambassadors.

The Whistler 101 program is being spearheaded by the municipality's manager of cultural planning and development, John Rae, who laid out the vision for the program at last week's meeting of council.

"We often like to turn the phrase that the community curates their own destination. Well, we can only do that if we're knowledgeable and we're skilled in communication," he explained.

The video seminars will be broken into five categories: an introduction to interpretation and communication; Whistler's geodiversity; Whistler's biodiversity; human history and heritage; and the local arts scene.

Anyone who completes all five seminars will receive a "True Local" certificate designating them "as people who are familiar with all the component parts and are comfortable in conversing with guests on the component parts that would constitute Whistler's culture," Rae said.

The municipality believes the free seminars, which staff hopes can someday be offered to groups and conferences for a fee, will have some positive economic side effects.

"Today's travellers want to experience a destination in its entirety. As we often say, they want to travel deeper. They want to be stimulated, they want to be educated, they'd like to be enriched," Rae noted. "That has a positive economic byproduct for us, which is potentially extending length of stay and certainly positive word of mouth."

Rae added that the seminars should also play a part in keeping locals in the resort.

"The seminars will assist, we think, in helping with community-wide retention," he said. "Certainly, an understanding of a community leads to community pride."

The RMOW wants to work with local organizations, such as the Whistler Naturalists, the Whistler Museum, Arts Whistler and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, on producing content. The Whistler Naturalists and Whistler Museum already have offered "Whistler Nature 101" events for the past three years, but Rae said that awareness and takeup of the program has been low.

Coun. Cathy Jewett acknowledged the potential for overlap with the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's Whistler Experience customer-service training program, and Rae said the RMOW is already working with the organization to identify opportunities for collaboration.

"We understand (the Chamber) is going back to more of an interpersonal seminar-type environment themselves (for next year's Whistler Experience training), so it's kind of a match made in Heaven," he added. (Chamber CEO Melissa Pace declined comment until she learned more of the Whistler 101 initiative, before adding in an email that "the Chamber looks forward to collaborating with the RMOW to help elevate our community" once the program is finalized.)

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden believes that Whistler 101 and the Whistler Experience training program, which comes with a range of perks as incentives for local employees to participate, will differ enough that locals will want to take part in the free seminars.

"To go out and learn about biodiversity and some of the offerings from the arts that are available here, it's a bit of a different spin from what you see in the Whistler Experience program," she noted.

The RMOW has already earmarked $25,000 in this year's budget for the development of the program. At Tuesday's meeting, council also authorized staff to prepare an application for a $60,000 grant to cover the program from the BC Rural Dividend fund.

The municipality is targeting mid-spring for rollout of Whistler 101.

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