News » Whistler

Yodel sees a steady rise in business

But revenues not near what was initially projected



The municipality’s business venture into the world of wireless Internet has seen a steady increase in revenues since its launch five months ago.

Currently Yodel Enterprises, a public/private partnership, is generating $137,500 annually.

The service is available in roughly half the tourist accommodation rooms in Whistler, with roughly 2.5 per cent of room night users buying the wireless product. This percentage is higher than originally projected as wireless fidelity or "wi-fi" becomes increasingly popular throughout the world.

With increased services to more rooms, particularly an expansion in the Blackcomb Benchlands and in Creekside, Yodel is looking to generate more money in the years to come.

"As a category, wireless is growing exponentially," said John Rae, manager, strategic alliances and marketing services at the municipality, who presented an update on Yodel at Monday’s council meeting.

Initial revenue projections came in at $300,000 annually. That number was based on a conservative 2 per cent estimate of users in all the tourist accommodation rooms in the resort.

Rae said the expansion should get them closer to those original projections.

The company was hoping to expand its wireless business into other resorts initially. But closer research showed this prospect was too labour intensive. As such, they revised their business plan to focus solely on the Whistler market.

Councillor Nick Davies said he was wondering if it was worthwhile to be in the business, after looking at the numbers. But he said he would wait a few more years and if he were still on council, he would ask the question then.

The five-month business venture is a partnership between V-Link Solutions and the RMOW.

Yodel provides a wireless Internet service in various parts of the village, with a focus on the Whistler visitor who wants to be connected through their laptop.

Davies suggested Yodel could be marketed to locals at a reduced rate. This could improve cash flow dramatically he said.

But, Rae said the local market is out of bounds for Yodel, due to a friendly agreement with the local cable company. This agreement allows Whistler Cable to work with the more permanent, monthly users.

"We have always been very mindful of the impact on existing businesses in the resort," said Rae.

"We’ve agreed to be friendly competitors and help grow the category together."

While an agreement with Whistler Cable is in effect, Internet cafes in Whistler have expressed concern about Yodel selling access online rather than from cards in the cafe, said Rae.

The cafes are now no longer selling Yodel access cards and the business relationship has fallen apart, he said.

Phone calls to two Internet cafes in Whistler were not returned this week.

Councillors Gordon McKeever and Kristi Wells said they were looking for more details on the business, specifically the financial particulars of Yodel.

"Nothing is reflected in our current budget," said Wells, adding that none of the details have been made public except for the concept.

Rae explained that when a party like the RMOW goes into a partnership like Yodel, the company is not subject to the same disclosure rules and regulations that govern the government body itself.

"The partnership could fall victim to competitors," he said.

Deputy Administrator Bill Barratt said there are ongoing discussions with RMOW solicitors and the partners to see how much information can be made public in the future.

"The point is it’s only been in operation for five months," he said.

Yodel is now looking to attract more conference business by offering a reduced conference rate. This expansion has had good results to date.

"We’re finding a very good uptake on that," said Rae.

Yodel will be expanding to Spruce Grove Field House in the near future.

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