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WB changes third-party booking policy following outcry

Proposal would have prohibited accommodation providers from booking WB products for guests

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Following outcry from the accommodation sector, Vail Resorts-Whistler Blackcomb (WB) has backtracked on a proposed change to its third-party commission program that would have prohibited accommodation providers from booking Whistler Blackcomb products for their guests.

This summer, WB notified its community partners that, beginning Sept. 30, WB products, such as lift tickets, ski rentals and ski-school lessons, would no longer be available to book through its traditional sales channels, eliminating the commission payments these third-party companies have been receiving for years.

An accommodation provider, who wished to speak anonymously to preserve the business relationship with WB's new owners, Vail Resorts, told Pique that the company has walked back on its original proposal after the accommodation sector "put up a major fuss."

"My understanding is that a lot of people objected, as they should have, and it has been fixed," the source said.

WB would not confirm whether the change had in fact been reversed, and declined numerous interview requests seeking further clarification over the past several weeks, citing its policy not to publicly discuss ongoing business discussions with partners.

Instead, a spokesperson sent the following statement: "Whistler Blackcomb is committed to working with our community partners to provide the best possible guest experience. There have been some changes this year and we are working with our partners, listening to feedback and making sure we are meeting our goal to provide guests with a streamlined and convenient experience."

Had the change been implemented, resort guests would have had to book products directly through the WB website before picking them up at the ticket window, or having them mailed to them.

"It would have impacted the guest experience and my relationship with the guest," explained Alan Lande of Whistler's Best Accommodations. "You're going somewhere with your family and you can buy discounted tickets and have them waiting for you. You can have your equipment all set up.

"My customers greatly appreciate that."

This was a common refrain heard from the accommodation businesses Pique spoke with — nearly all of whom were reluctant to speak out against Vail Resorts publicly: They were less concerned about the potential loss of commission payments than the impact the changes would have had on their guests' experience.

As it stands, the only major change, according to accommodation providers, is that they will now only be eligible for commission if they book WB products or services seven days or more in advance of the guest's arrival.

The move could be designed to push well-heeled destination guests into either purchasing an inexpensive, multi-day Epic Pass or a costly one-day lift ticket at the last minute, the source said. A one-day pass at Vail Ski Resort cost US$189 last year.

According to Sue Chappel, former owner of vacation rental service alluraDirect, the true value of the commission program lay in how it fostered collaboration between WB and its accommodation partners.

"Whistler Blackcomb basically had an army of evangelists out there spreading the word, being able to offer a higher-value product to their guests with a more integrated experience," she said.

For Lande, the concern is not the new policies that the Colorado ski operator is parachuting into Whistler, but rather how they were rolled out.

"It's not what they do, it's how they do it," he said, adding that WB didn't pay out his commission from last winter until August, four months later than he had traditionally received it in past years. "Never a letter of apology, never a note. It's always me chasing them.

"It's a good company, but they're only margin focused."

If there is a silver lining, it's that Vail Resorts has shown its willingness to listen to partners when issues arise, said the accommodation provider.

"At least they heard us, so I am suddenly hopeful," the source said.

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