Once the numbers are crunched, Tourism Whistler should be declaring the summer of 2013 Whistler’s best yet. Anyone who frequented the village, particularly on weekends, couldn’t help but notice it was busy. The tourists were here sprinkling tourist dollars on crowded patios, capacity restaurants and Village stores.
Could this enthusiasm for Whistler as a summer destination have anything to do with events? Patriots and wannabes can join in the Canada Day celebrations that manage to show off both Whistler’s community spirit and its penchant for producing cool concerts. Tough guys and gals can get down and dirty at Tuff Mudder, a team obstacle race that tests even the toughest of mudders. The more flexible set can take part in Wanderlust, a spiritual, social and intellectual, gathering of yoga enthusiasts. Crankworx celebrates mountain biking culture, from its music to heart-stopping big air exhibitions. There’s the Ironman Triathlon, which sees an Olympian size network of volunteers (2,500) help upwards of 2,500 athletes complete a punishing event.
Of course, all through the summer there have been fantastic free concerts at the Plaza featuring artists as diverse as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Toronto roots-rockers, The Strumbellas. And this weekend, we get the last of the big summer events, The Gran Fondo, which will sees thousands of road bikers end their journey from Vancouver at our front door.
The two things that all of these events have in common are, a) they are all fun, and b) they are attracting new guests and old guests alike. This means that all of us who are somehow connected to the Great Tourism Machine get to continue to eat three meals a day and live inside.
Of course, despite clear benefits to the entire region — region meaning the Sea to Sky, including Squamish and Pemberton — there is not a single one of these events that has not drawn criticism. Some has been mumbled out in the community. Some has been voiced at community meetings. And some appeared in the letters section of this newspaper.
The main issue with the events seems to be the hassles they create. Sometimes, as in biking events, the concerns have been about safety, but generally the chief gripe is being personally inconvenienced. And yes, events can be a hassle. They can be noisy, they can be crowded and they can be inconvenient.
Events can make you unhappy that you own a condo next to an outdoor music venue. Events can mean you have to wait an hour to get into your favourite restaurant. Events can even close a road. Events can also ensure that we can maintain our standards of living and continue to lead enjoyable lives in an enviable environment. Events help stoke the Great Tourism Machine, the machine that’s a powerful economic driver for all of the communities in the corridor.
At a recent public meeting, I heard a guy say that Whistler was the only community that benefited from Ironman, and that it was a joke to say otherwise. Two nights later I saw this fellow Pembertonian working in a Whistler restaurant — one that undoubtedly earned a lot of Ironman dollars. Hmmm. Given that many of his Whistler-made dollars (that come from tourists participating in Whistler-made events), will be spent in Pemberton — to my mind that is a benefit to the community.
Whether you live in Squamish, Whistler or Pemberton, even if you do not personally benefit from tourism, your community benefits. It’s time to stop freaking out about events and embrace their potential to ensure that Whistler can maintain a healthy, and consistent year-round economy.