It looks like 2013 will be another year jam-packed with events in Whistler, after the municipality revealed it's invited producers of over a dozen events to submit proposals for thousands of dollars in available Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding.
The council-appointed Festival, Events and Animation (FE&A) Oversight Committee sent out email requests for proposals to 14 event producers — up from nine in 2012 — that have worked in Whistler in the past rather than issue an open request for proposal (RFP).
“These are people who have been up here before and whom we've worked with before,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “We know what's been successful and so we want to keep on the same course. We know who is out there and who is capable of actually doing what they say they can do. Really, it's at this point that we are simply identifying known products and known producers rather than just issuing a blanket call.”
Despite the closed invitation process, the mayor said the FE&A committee welcomes proposals for third-party events that haven't been held in Whistler before.
“If someone's out there who's got a good idea or a good event that we haven't approached, they can certainly approach us and let us know that they're out there and we can have a discussion,” she said.
Whistler's WinterPride, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF), the Whistler Half Marathon, the Whistler Longboard Festival, the Whistler Intercultural Festival, the Children's Art Festival, Wanderlust, Crankworx, GranFondo, International Peace Day, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's Spirit Within Festival, the Readers and Writers Festival, Cornucopia and the Whistler Film Festival were all invited to submit proposals for funding to augment their existing programming.
“Funds are not handed over to the third party events to offset operating costs; instead, the FE&A program is investing in programming that takes place during or adjacent to their programming with the goal for attendees to stay in Whistler longer and/or enhance the overall guest experience in Whistler,” read an email from municipal spokesperson Michele Comeau.
The event scheduled for the earliest date on 2013's calendar, WinterPride, can expect an announcement from municipal officials regarding its level of funding sometime next week, said Comeau*. No word on when the remaining augmentation funding will be announced.
WinterPride submitted a funding wishlist that ranged in value from $30,000 to $100,000.
Events in early 2013 benefited from the muni's decision in July to allot $1.2 million in RMI reserve funds for next year's FE&A program. Last year, Whistler didn't receive word on RMI funding from the province until the spring, excluding events set for the early part of the year from applying for the nearly $500,000 it had earmarked for augmentation purposes, roughly 20 per cent of 2012's total FE&A budget.
“This is something that had not been done before,” said Wilhelm-Morden. “With this $1.2 million, we are now able to secure talent in advance and do some very significant planning and it's going to make a real difference for next year.”
The 14 producers vying for a portion of the FE&A's $2.8 million 2013 budget are events that align with the Whistler brand that have demonstrated potential for future growth and significant economic benefits to the resort through an increase in room nights and marketing opportunities. The events are a combination of homegrown events, like Crankworx, and ones that the municipality has worked hard to attract, like the yoga-themed Wanderlust Festival, which was held in Whistler for the first time last August and resulted in a 15 per cent jump in room nights compared to the same weekend in 2011.
Comeau said invites were only extended to events that would be held regardless of whether or not they received augmentation funds.
The muni's event selection process was aided this year by extensive research conducted over the summer by the FE&A's working group, made up of representatives from the RMOW, Tourism Whistler and other community partners.
“This is all part of the strategic focus of the FE&A program, so, for example, when the VSO (Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) came last July, we thought that it would result in more room nights being sold, but we didn't know until we got the research from Tourism Whistler that indicated that the VSO was highly successful in securing more room nights. So we've got that kind of research available to us that confirms we're on the right track,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
In addition to providing augmentation funding, the FE&A program is committed to enhancing the resort experience through original programming, like the Whistler Presents concert series and family-oriented street entertainment. The RMOW will issue an open RFP for a third-party event producer to organize this programming.
“We've done RFP's before but what's going to be different this year is we're going to issue that RFP about six months earlier (than last year), so that's going to allow us better planning and securing of talent earlier than we have in other years,” said the mayor.
The lengthy list of invitees will have to compete for available funding with three major events that will receive significant FE&A investment in 2013; the popular obstacle course Tough Mudder, to be held in June, the world's premiere triathlon, Ironman, slated for August and the RMOW's Fall Festival, schedule for September.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that a funding announcement was expected for both WinterPride and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. Municipal funding has only been confirmed for WinterPride, not the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.