Almost 80 members of the business community braved the cold and rain on Thursday evening to gather around the fire at the Telus Conference Centre for the Women of Whistler meeting.
A key theme throughout the meeting was the plummeting global economy, which was highlighted during a presentation by Tourism Whistler’s president and CEO Barrett Fisher.
“We’ve got some challenges ahead,” she said during a 10-minute presentation.
She added that Tourism Whistler is narrowing its focus, concentrating on core skiers, repeat visitors, regional markets and high-end demographics, while cutting back on marketing in California and Japan, and reducing marketing emphasis on health and wellness, arts and culture, and gay market promotions.
Fisher presented year-to-year room rates from recent seasons, then pointed out that there is a forecasted 12 per cent decrease in room rates for the upcoming season, a problem which is made all the worse by fuel surcharges, inconvenient GST rebates, and heavy competition in Colorado and Europe.
“U.S. visitors are staying much closer to home,” she concluded.
But she managed to put an optimistic spin on the news by saying the local business community can work together to make the situation better, pointing out that an expert in U.S. consumer trends, Peter Yesawich, has made a few simple, yet effective recommendations for combating the global economic situation. The suggestions include stimulating demand with decreased prices, offering great value and customizing products and services.
Fisher also stressed that local business and homeowners need to be competitive if they hope to rent their properties out during the 2010 Olympics, as even big corporations have Olympic budgets, and if they can’t find something that fits their budget in Whistler, they’ll end up staying in Vancouver. She added that these opportunities are also quickly diminishing as time passes, and that all local businesses, big or small, should be looking for an Olympic angle to their product or service.
Later in the evening, Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb, reinforced Fisher’s optimistic message, saying that as a tourist destination, Whistler is well positioned to weather this economic crisis because of the 2010 Olympic Games.
But the central focus of his talk was updating the crowd on activities planned to help kick off the Peak 2 Peak gondola, which is slated to open on Dec. 12.
There were a surprisingly high number of males in attendance, as many of the candidates for the municipal elections showed up to try and win the votes of members of the business community.