University courses in Whistler are on the horizon.
Simon Fraser University has agreed to lead five courses in the New Year to test and lay the groundwork for a long-term relationship in Whistler. BCIT has also committed to offer a new course in the coming months.
This could be the beginning of the Whistler Education Group's big vision for "educational tourism" and to put Whistler on the map as the go-to place for education and training.
The Whistler Education Group, led by Dr. Stephen Milstein, confirmed the new deals at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting and outlined the need for $40,000 to $50,000 in seed funding to get the Whistler Learning Centre really off the ground.
"This market is booming," he said after the meeting, referring to the market in continuing education and destination education. "We need to grab it."
There was no formal request for municipal funding at this time but the volunteer-led group needs help in taking its vision to the next step. They intend to make that request to council in the coming weeks. Long-term, however, the goal is to be self-funding.
"Continuing studies is a money-maker," said Milstein, adding that universities are all looking to expand their offerings in this realm.
The group believes they're tapping into a growing tourism market, one that can help fill Whistler's beds and fuel its economic engine.
"Literature shows us that there is a significant education tourism market developing globally," Milstein told council.
Whistler is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this opportunity; universities want to align with the Whistler brand, he added.
The Whistler Learning Centre will act as a hub, a one-stop source for education opportunities in Whistler. The idea is to create a database of information with available spaces to host courses at locations like the Spruce Grove Field House, or in spare hotel conference rooms.
"We plan to use existing spaces, indoor and outdoor, as classrooms and learning spaces," explained Milstein.
The group will then provide all necessary equipment from audio-visual to coffee.
"We plan to use a concierge model to provide a level of service that is consistent with the Whistler brand," he added.
The idea is to market to the people who are putting on the courses, not to the attendees.
The SFU deal is for five courses to be held in Whistler between January and April. The courses range from a one-day to a four-day offering. They include a brewmaster course, a social media for small businesses course and a visual analytics course, among others. They are expected to accommodate 25 people each.
The BCIT course is in environmental economics; this would be a credit course at the institute.
The group is even talking about pre-packaged pop-up courses. These are still a year away, said Milstein, but the idea would be to train local experts in areas such as the culinary arts and then be ready to offer the pop-up courses at the last minute.
"All of a sudden, on a rainy day, there's lots to do in Whistler," said Milstein.
The Whistler Education Group has been laying the groundwork for this since 2012, all work driven by volunteers passionate about the opportunities and potential in Whistler to not only fill beds but to put Whistler on the map as a bona fide destination education hub.
This aligns with municipal priorities.
The 2013 Economic Partnership Initiatives (EPI) report details a section on developing "complimentary learning and education opportunity into the resort product."
That EPI report outlined the use of $150,000 in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding to that end. It was included in the 2014 budget. That money has now been used to fund primarily the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Institute in Whistler, which sold out with 76 students in its first year.