Opinion » Editorial

Time to catch the spirit of Whistler

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"A rising tide lifts all boats."

- John F. Kennedy

There continues to be a healthy debate in the resort about the Spirit Pass Program, Whistler's way of reaching staff, business managers, and owners to try to elevate service levels in return for a discounted ski pass.

What there is little debate about is that good customer service is vital to the success of the town and all the businesses that operate in it.

We have seen this summer past an incredible appetite from visitors to come to the resort. Pique reported last week (Sept. 5) that June's room nights were up 15 per cent over last year, making it the busiest June on record. July's room nights were up seven per cent over last year in terms of room nights booked, and July 2013 now stands as the busiest on record too, beating out July 2011. And while August room numbers for the resort are not officially tallied, early indications are that the resort was busier last month than in August 2012.

We saw in the "letters to the editor section" comments from athletes who came for events such as Ironman and now, having experienced the resort, say that they plan to come back for vacations.

I think there can be little doubt that Whistler's shoulder seasons are shrinking and that summer business is becoming almost as important as winter to the success of everyone who lives here.

And what is it that makes people come back? It is our incredible natural environment, but it is also the welcome they receive from everyone they come in contact with.

And that takes us back to the Spirit Program, administered by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, supported to the tune of $110,000 in taxpayers dollars from the Resort Municipality of Whistler and subsidized heavily by Whistler Blackcomb.

At the crux of the debate is the relevance of the program. What good does it really do for those who are long-term residents?

Perhaps it is time to reverse that position? Perhaps, if Whistler wants to cash in on the returning and new visitors, long-term residents need to be asking themselves what they can do to make the program relevant?

Some have been busy answering that question — the outcome is change is on the horizon. This year's Spirit Pass now gives discounted passes to cross-country skiing in the Callaghan, Meadow Park Recreation Centre and Lost Lake trails, as well as the Whistler Blackcomb ski pass. The on-line course has been shortened and livened up with a video by pro-skier and local legend Mike Douglas — what a great ambassador.

The afternoon gathering offered for managers, supervisors and owners, L3, will now be free, be condensed and offer workshops targeted for specific interests. There will even be time for social interaction — so we can all do what we love to do in Whistler ­­— celebrate how lucky we are to live here and swap tall tales.

But that is not all, no, that is not all. More changes will come in 2014.

There is little doubt that this is a costly program for all stakeholders, and with the feedback on our service levels through surveys quite strong, some may ask what the point of continuing with the program is — looks like we are just doing fine.

But the Spirit Program really offers a way of levelling the playing field for the local businesses. The big hotels, chain stores — they all have their service protocols in place.

What the Spirit Program can do — if we all get on board — is bring every store up to the same level. And it's not just about customer service, it's about offering that extra suggestion, it's about knowing the resort so anyone can offer advice when stopped, it's about being excited to live and work here.

It's not just about frontline workers.

It's about making every citizen of Whistler an ambassador for our community.

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