One of the building blocks of the Whistler Village, the strata-titled condo-hotel, is becoming one of the resorts biggest headaches.
In a frank presentation addressing growing concerns about pricing and value to visitors, Tourism Whistler President Suzanne Denbak laid out a series of problems for 200 members Saturday. They range from the cost of flights from major American cities to Vancouver, to the number of property managers in one condo-hotel complex.
"Historical success doesnt guarantee future success," Denbak said. "Arrogance can lead to downfall."
The weekend symposium was held at the end of what Denbak said has been another strong season "although there have been some unexpected soft spots" because, "The best and easiest time to change is at the pinnacle of success."
Whistler continues to do well, with skier visits expected to top 2 million for the third consecutive year and overnight visitors to the resort having increased from 1.4 million in 1996 to 2.1 million in 2000. But as consultant Steve Mulvany, another speaker at the symposium, said later, resort towns can become insulated.
"The only perceptions and the only beliefs that matter are our guests and tour operators," Denbak said. And the message is that too many guests are leaving Whistler disappointed. Prices have increased in recent years, but there is also a perception that visitors arent getting a corresponding increase in value.
Denbak began by outlining some of Whistlers traditional competitive advantages: the amount of terrain, vertical drop, number of high speed lifts, and the pedestrian village. But Vail has more skiable acreage than any single ski area in North America and is using that in its marketing, directly targeting one of Whistlers biggest advantages. Colorado resorts are also trying to make sure ski vacationers know about the rain and clouds Whistler gets.
Denbak added that Whistlers pedestrian village is no longer unique, with many other resorts building similar villages and increasing their inventory of ski-in/ski-out accommodation.
At the same time, Denbak said, Whistler hasnt made significant gains in attacking any of its competitive disadvantages, one of the primary ones being access. In many cases the cost of a flight from a major U.S. city, such as New York, Chicago or Dallas, to Vancouver can be twice the price of a flight from that same city to Denver. Its also a longer flight to Vancouver than to Denver from those cities.
A growing perception of Whistler, Denbak said, is that it is busy and congested at key times, such as the Christmas holidays. She also presented a number of newspaper headlines which suggested Whistler has become pricey.