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If cruising around the Internet is dubbed surfing, the World Wide Web waves are crashing onto the electronic beaches of Whistler. In just over a year of operation Whistler Networks, with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, has taken Whistler to the edge of the electronic frontier with their creative designs on the World Wide Web. The Web, as it is referred to, can be best described as magazine pages existing all over the world which deliver information, text, colour photos, sound and video directly to a user's computer. Links between pages around the globe have created an easy to use, graphic interface that, in essence, is a virtual book about everything. Whistler Networks is run by Frank Franchini and Pat Richard and the two have quickly proven to be techo-wise and business savvy, garnering kudos from Internet users (one recent poll described the www.whistler.net as the best ski-related page on the web). Last week, The Province gave Whistler Networks the nod as the best ski-related website and Profit Magazine has dubbed the site the best in the ski business. A year of marketing and some slick graphic work, combined with the international stature of the resort, has proved to be a powerful combination as 25,000 web surfers are beaching in Whistler every day, reserving hotel rooms, buying lift tickets, checking daily snow conditions and just perusing what Whistler has to offer. Now, Franchini and Richard are bracing for the new kid on the World Wide Web block — the Whistler Resort Association. With some powerful backing from BC Tel and Nexus and the co-op dollars of BC Tourism, the WRA is in the process of putting together a site on the World Wide Web, but Whistler Networks is not going to be involved. According to Jim Watson, WRA vice president of finance and administration, Whistler Networks had an opportunity to be involved in the project, but opted out after the first stage of tendering. "Right now we have entered into a pilot project with BC Tourism and marketing regions across the province," Watson says. The project, which as of yet does not have a release date or price tag, will expand the resort’s on-line presence and, according to Watson, market all of B.C. as a tourism entity on the World Wide Web. "The concept was to create a project that would highlight all of B.C. on one web site," says Watson, adding all WRA members will be listed on the Whistler web site. "It’s going to be set up like the Yellow Pages, all members will be listed for free," he says. "On top of that there will be some extended features that people would be paying for." Although Whistler Networks is not worried about a little competition they are worried about the lack of co-operation and communication they are getting from the WRA. "We are getting 25,000 hits a day, we are the established web site for Whistler and the WRA is effectively starting a new business that is going to be competing with an established local business," says Richard. "I wonder if WRA members are aware of how their money is being spent?" According to minutes from a WRA Commercial meeting held May 16, WRA members have known about the plans for some time as members at the meeting were informed the WRA "was working in partnership with BC Tel and Nexus to get on Internet. B(arrett) Fisher said that J. Watson would present the proposed information to the Board of Directors and keep the membership informed of the developments, as it becomes available." According to Franchini, Whistler Networks was not aware the WRA has any agreement with BC Tel or Nexus and he was still preparing a website proposal for the Council of Tourism Associations in June — almost one month after Fisher told members the BC Tel partnership was struck. Two weeks later, Franchini and Richard opted out of the bidding process, fearing the Council of Tourism Associations would take their plans for designing and marketing a website and share them with other groups involved in the bidding competition. The WRA is also involved with BC Tel, Nexus and Tourism BC in an information kiosk project called Discover Whistler. Richard says Whistler Networks was not prepared to put a whole bunch of work into something that "at the time looked to be a BC Tel initiative." David Perry, Whistler Mountain’s marketing director, says the lift company has been on-line at the Whistler Networks web site since last spring and are very happy with the service and the response they have been getting. "Whistler Networks is emerging as a real leader as an Internet provider, not just here, but across the country," he says, adding Whistler Mountain sold season’s passes on their web site this fall with a measure of success. Perry says the WRA web site should not be thought of as competition for Whistler Networks, but a complement, and by providing links to Whistler Networks and vice versa both sites will be expanding the resort’s on-line presence. "Companies are going to need to be on the Internet," Perry says. "Some are going to do it independently and some are going to do it through the intermediary and that intermediary is going to have to charge a little more for the service… that is part of the business of being an intermediary." Fisher, the WRA director of sales and marketing, says she is not sure whether the WRA web site will provide links to Whistler Networks or not. "When you look at it the idea behind the Internet is to make it as accessible and user friendly as possible," she says. "We would like to have a site that is as thorough as possible."

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