WRA not prepared to sit back, searches for new staff By Andy Stonehouse After a long run as the primary gateway for visitors looking for information on North America's top ski resort, the Whistler Resort Association's reservation phone lines have been ringing less and less — and the association is looking for new staff to help turn around the trend. A new director's position and two new management jobs have been advertised and WRA President Suzanne Denbak says she hopes the new staff will help the organization maintain Whistler's edge on other resorts in Canada and the U.S. "We've been very successful in the past, but it's important for the WRA to improve its focus," she said. "We've seen our call volume declining, but we're not prepared to sit back and watch those numbers continue to decline." The WRA is currently advertising for a director of sales and market development, a senior manager of market development and a sales manager for central reservation. Denbak said the sales and market development director will be responsible for more aggressively pushing the WRA's conference sales operations and group tours, which have also seen a recent lull in business. The WRA's new market development manager will be going after a bigger share of the vacationing public in traditional Whistler markets like the United States and the U.K., as well as pushing stronger ties with tourists from Asia and the Pacific Rim, the rest of Europe, and South America. And the new central reservations sales manager will be enlisted to attempt to keep the WRA's phones ringing off the hook. "There's a natural evolution amongst call centres, and we're finding that many of Whistler's visitors are second-time visitors and they're calling the individual hotels themselves. It's also partially related to the increased volume of rooms in the village." Denbak describes things as "a little slow" in the telephone reservation rooms, with about 1,000 calls being handled a week, and about 8,000 calls so far in the summer season. "That's on par with 1997, but we don't want to just accept those numbers." While the low Canadian dollar and Whistler's proximity to the border have made the resort a big draw amongst Washington state visitors, Denbak said the WRA will be putting new emphasis on drawing American tourists from further south and east in the lower 48. "Our key markets are in Washington and California, but we're also looking to visitors from Texas and Arizona, who could come to Whistler as a golf destination. At home, it's too hot for them to golf in the summer, so a lot are looking for a more moderate golf climate." Denbak said the winter focus will be placed on Americans from Chicago and the Eastern Seaboard, who can now access Whistler through a variety of direct flights to Vancouver International Airport. Overall, Denbak said the WRA is not off track when it comes to bringing in the business, but said it's clearly time to reinvest in the organization and help keep things busy. "Whistler has an awareness in the world marketplace, and there are tremendous opportunities."