For several years Whistler has tried to get a handle on the resorts’ growing events business, but all previous attempts have fallen short. Tourism Whistler, with the creation of a new Manager of Event Tourism position within the organization, is now taking the lead on the issue on behalf of its partners in the resort.
The announcement comes after two years of failed attempts to better organize Whistler’s event hosting apparatus.
In 2006, Whistler Events Bureau, which includes Tourism Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and the municipality, was transformed into Events Whistler and a full-time events coordinator for the resort was hired in April of that year to attract new events, build up existing events, and streamline the red tape faced by event organizers by acting as a single point of contact. That contract was cut short by several months in early 2007 and Events Whistler members decided not to rehire for the position.
Since then Whistler-Blackcomb has taken the lead in organizing the Crankworx freeride mountain bike festival, which was originally envisioned as an Events Whistler project, while Tourism Whistler divested itself of organizing the Cornucopia food and wine festival last fall because the organization wanted to focus resources more on marketing than events planning.
The latest event tourism strategy, announced to Tourism Whistler members on March 23, acknowledges the importance of events to draw visitors to the resort as well as the need for a coordinated, long term approach to hosting events.
“It’s a completely different approach,” said Arlene Schieven, vice president of marketing for Tourism Whistler. “Years ago (Tourism Whistler) used to promote a lot of events, but bit by bit we’ve been doing fewer events and refocusing on sales and marketing. We’re not really set up with the staff to organize events ourselves, and we don’t have the resources to have an in-house production team. From that perspective it was better to spin off events to third party companies that have the resources to do all the leg work.
“The biggest difference is that this time the (events strategy) will be housed within Tourism Whistler. We’ve worked on it with our partners and have an endorsement by the board of directors to take the lead in pulling people together and putting the pieces into place. I think it’s appropriate for Tourism Whistler. Having a separate organization, (Events) Whistler, with members going to three different reporting bodies, was not the best format.”
Events Whistler will continue to exist as an Events Working Committee, involving stakeholders like the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler-Blackcomb and possibly new members such as the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Whistler Arts Council. Tourism Whistler and the municipality will be involved in all events, while other partners will be brought in as needed. For example, Whistler-Blackcomb will be brought in when events require mountain resources, and the arts council will be involved in arts and culture events.
The Event Tourism Strategy is now a work in progress at Tourism Whistler. It will be the task of whoever takes on the Manger of Events position to complete the strategy, take the lead on developing new events to fill in the gaps in Whistler’s events portfolio, streamline the application process for event organizers, promote Whistler to events organizers, and to promote Whistler events to visitors.
How much the new manager gets involved depends on the type of event, and its potential to generate room nights for the resort.
Tourism Whistler has an aggressive timeline for completing the event framework strategy and business plan, and Schieven says most if it should be in place by the end of the summer. Tourism Whistler and the municipality are now taking steps to configure their events budgets to reflect the new strategy. Tourism Whistler is responsible for marketing, sales, communications, and research for events. The municipality is providing planning, operational support, venues, and other types of support.
The strategy also looks ahead to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and roughly two months worth of events that will be held around the Games, as well as the opportunities from hosting one-off events like World Cup races.
Tourism Whistler’s role will be maximizing event support within the organization, stimulating stakeholder participation and support, soliciting new events (specifically outdoor summer music festivals), identifying event marketing opportunities with Tourism Whistler’s partners, outsourcing event production to third-party producers, and implementing the Event Tourism Strategy in collaboration with partners.
The next target in the strategy, creating event calendar tools for community partners and target markets, is expected in May. The Event Framework, which cuts red tape for event producers, will be completed in June, and a report on resort infrastructure to support the event strategy will be released in August.