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Whistler must pull together in tough times for tourism

Hotels and businesses given the facts in no-holes barred meeting

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At a time when many businesses continue to struggle with the downturn in the tourism industry, Tourism Whistler last week hosted a lively three and half hour meeting that grappled with a raft of concerns about business and the tourism industry.

This "value strategy meeting" was a pivotal one for Tourism Whistler because amid the uncertainty in the tourism industry during the past three years it has become one of the most unpopular and misunderstood organizations in Whistler.

But last week’s meeting showed that Tourism Whistler and its board of directors are willing to listen to the concerns of the community and would be endeavouring to make some big changes.

More than 80 business owners, homeowners and civil servants packed a room in the Telus Conference Centre Nov. 5 to hear statistics about what has happened to the tourism industry and to deal, predominantly, with the issues of value and prices in Whistler. Many of Whistler’s decision-makers attended and listened to members vent about issues such as crowding during peak periods, expansion and the need for more family entertainment, as well as "value-added" services like an ice rink near the village.

Tourism Whistler’s managers and some directors then took turns describing what businesses could be doing to reverse the trends.

The general manager of the Delta Village Suites, Diana Lyons, made some particularly salient points when she described what happened when she typed words such as "moderate", "economy", "affordable hotels" and "Whistler" into an Internet search engine. Lyons showed that in these budget categories Whistler had very few hits, compared to most other resorts.

But when Lyons typed in words such as "luxury" or "first class" Whistler had far more options than other resorts.

Lyons’s example showed that Whistler is still focused on attracting customers who have a lot of money, rather than casting a wider net and building relationships with families and younger people.

"The thing is that I know we’ve got three or four levels of accommodation in Whistler, we’re just not doing a very good job of going to the market with it," Lyons said after the meeting.

Lyons, and several of the other presenters, also spoke of the importance of training because "if customers get good service then they will often forget about how much they have to pay. The way you treat your employees is a reflection on how you will treat your guests," said Lyons.

"And the one thing about this town is that we need to pull together to turn it around, and I get frustrated when I see individuals that aren’t focused on the positives because they’re ignoring the issues."

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