It's impossible to deny that the annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival brings a much needed influx of business to Whistler during what would otherwise be a slow end of season.
For this, the festival has historically had ample support from local hotels offering free rooms to house artists and production people brought in to make the event shine.
But this year only 15 of the 25 hotels typically involved have stepped up to bat, leaving TWSSF organizers on the hook for the rest.
"From our perspective it's been a little disappointing for sure because we're having a good year and we feel that we've put a good line-up together... the accommodation sector has always come through and this year it's not as much the case," said Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications, the firm in charge of organizing the festival.
"We have some great partners but there is definitely an absence of people giving rooms. It's been a bit of a challenge and it's something that we're going to have to address this summer because the big thing for the festival is obviously to drive the economy of the resort and everything has always been done very much as this is a community asset."
Since its focus is to bring as many people as possible to Whistler, a majority of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival's (TWSSF) resources go towards marketing. A small contingency of $2,000 to $3,000 is typically set aside for rooms needed to host last minute artists and talent, but organizers count on the generosity of local hotels to make up the balance. It's considered a win-win by organizers, who are cognizant that hotels are operating at capacity thanks to hordes of festival-goers.
"The value isn't just in the room rates - it's a $3 million marketing campaign for Whistler for springtime," continued Eckersley. "We have brought Whistler to the forefront of people's minds and there are a lot of intangible benefits to the festival outside of what we drive during these 10 days."
TWSSF organizers typically ask hotels to contribute two per cent of their capacity for free and discounted rooms for use by festival talent. The lack of accommodation support for this year's event is costing organizers in excess of $20,000 and will likely lead to a reassessment to how they approach next year's festival. As the marketing of the event is focused on the resort in general, organizers have previously avoided the promotion of key partners. If hotels continue to hold back support while reaping the benefits of the additional tourist dollars, Eckersley said they would consider different tactics, including more specific partner-related advertising to keep the public eye focused on supporters.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is one of the hotels that decided not to offer free rooms to the festival this year. Though they have supported it in the past, concerns over a lack of control over the kind of guest they might get led them to reconsider.
"The way the rooms are allocated for the Telus Festival is basically the hotel has to allocate X percentage of inventory, blindly not knowing what company would be coming," said Fairmont Chateau Whistler public relations manager Jennifer Tice. "In speaking to the organizers I told them that we're more than happy to help but it's hard for a hotel in a position like us to just blindly allocate rooms not knowing who is coming. I would hate to have an incident in the hotel where we've got media coming and they're going to the festival, they're here to party and they come back to the hotel at 3 a.m. and we have noise complaints."
Tice stressed the Chateau's support of the festival in other ways, including a promotion running throughout the event offering a chance to win a free night's stay.
ResortQuest Whistler is another accommodation provider that decided against providing free rooms to TWSSF. Like the Chateau, ResortQuest Whistler president Paul Sanderson said the decision was based on other factors, including spreading their support to other events throughout the year.
"We have an agreement with Tourism Whistler where we agree to contribute over the course of a year a certain amount of room nights... it's not anything on a personal company basis that we're not supporting Telus, it's just that we have allocated our room nights during the year which a lot of smaller property managers and hotels tend not to pick up so we tend to support those when others are not interested," he said, noting his company's involvement in the Whistler Film Festival and annual Dragon Boat races.
"I think there are a lot of events that take place in Whistler that have their merits and I think generally the Telus festival normally is oversubscribed, to be perfectly honest, in the room nights that they need.
"We've supported them in the past at certain times but I think of late we've tended to spread our room night responsibilities or allocation to Tourism Whistler in other directions."