Expanded facility should generate new business for whole resort
With a checkerboard of sunlight columns warming the wood-pillared and rock-faced grand foyer the newly renovated Whistler Conference Centre feels more like a cathedral in the mountains than an institutional facility capable of hosting thousands.
And creating this image was no mistake.
"It is totally unique in comparison (with other conferences centres)," said Lynda Gilroy, director of meetings and incentive experience for Tourism Whistler.
Ahead of schedule and on budget, the conference centre will hold a gala opening Saturday, Sept. 27 after a yearlong face-lift.
And it is expected that Telus and the Whistler Conference Centre will make an announcement at the ribbon cutting regarding the re-opening of the facility.
Workers have been furiously finishing lose ends, hammering down carpets, cleaning windows and skylights, and sprucing up the awe-inspiring 12 metre-tall, low-emission Rumford wood-burning fireplace in preparation for the gala opening.
Organizers want everyone to feel right at home.
"The Whistler Conference Centre is very residential in its feel," said Gilroy.
"When you walk in you feel at home, whereas when you walk into some other conventions centres, you feel they are more institutional.
"And that is one of our major selling points about the resort. It is how we make you feel from the moment you arrive until the moment you depart."
It looks like Tourism Whistlers message and the new $10.5 million makeover is having an impact on bookings. The centre is already 65 per cent booked for 2004 and there are booking all the way to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Included in those bookings is the US-based Automatic Data Processing conference, which has booked 6,400 room nights for August 2004. That is expected to inject $1.7 million into the resort.
Without the renovation and upgrade, said Gilroy, there is no way the resort could have hosted the ADP meeting. And there are several more like it on the books.
"What my team targets is groups of 400 guest rooms and up," said Gilroy.
"Of course if we get the smaller groups we generate leads for the hotels and we distribute those leads to the appropriate hotels.
"But the conference centre is going to allow us to go up to 1,500 delegates so the hotels get the guest rooms and we use the exhibit space."
But it is not just the additional 25,000 square feet of space which will attract conferences.
"(Long-haul U.S. groups) are typically very sophisticated meeting planners who are used to dealing with very high-end facilities," said Barrett Fisher, interim president of Tourism Whistler.