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Whistler needs to sharpen its edges

Former Intrawest executive calls for unity


P>By Vivian Moreau

Whistler needs to put a lid on its Chicken Little hand-wringing and start presenting a more positive face to the world, a former Intrawest executive told a packed Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd Wednesday.

Ed Pitoniak, a senior vice-president with Intrawest until two years ago returned to Whistler with a call for unity in vision, a commitment to service in order to bring back American tourists to the resort town.

"Those chippy, snide anti-American comments that come up are to the detriment of business," Pitoniak, who was raised in the U.S., said. "You shouldn’t be pissing off your biggest customer," the former editor of Ski Magazine told the 346 audience members.

Pitoniak emphasized Whistler’s history as an extroverted, risk-taking number one resort wannabe that achieved its goal by 2000 but has declined since then, with decreasing room length stays. He pointed out that shoulder season stays can only be built up with a strong foundation of prime season numbers.

"The demand for January through March needs to come earlier in the season in order to push out the shoulder season," he said. He noted there isn’t a resort-wide satisfaction survey available to gauge guest experience. "The resort needs to get real about marketing the prime season."

Pitoniak also called for peace in the region, saying it doesn’t help for visitors to come here and read in the local newspapers about factions quarreling over issues like London Drugs.

"Make decisions faster and get on with it," he said.

He encouraged business leaders to work cohesively toward a new vision for the area, one focused on guests. "What do they need to know to get around this town for the time they’re here and what knowledge can be shared with guests? From senior management on down to the front line desk, everyone needs to be aware of what you want to measurably achieve," he said.

Audience members got the message.

"It’s not so much a wake-up call, as a check in as to where we’re going," said mayor-elect Ken Melamed.

Royal Bank branch manager Cecelia Lawson agreed. "It’s good to have a different perspective, good for everyone to hear an outsider’s perspective."

Pitoniak was preceded by a Whistler-Blackcomb update by Doug Forseth, senior vice-president, operations , and followed by a five-minute promotional video featuring vintage and contemporary ski footage from the mountains.