The prospect of a bad snow year can strike fear into the hearts of any Whistlerite.
It's no secret an extended period of poor weather can have drastic impacts on the local economy across all sectors, and that's why community stakeholders are looking to develop a contingency plan that would maintain Whistler's viability as a winter destination and offer more weather-independent attractions in the resort.
The concept was introduced in the municipality's Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) Report, drafted in consultation with resort stakeholders and presented to council Tuesday (Oct. 15), recommending the formulation of a Poor Weather Risk Mitigation Plan to anticipate substantive periods of poor weather.
The RMOW's Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey explained the impetus for the plan in a media briefing.
“We thought it was worthwhile, rather than find ourselves in the middle of February when things are looking bad and we have to do something about it, to look ahead and have some plans in place,” he said. “That could mean we might need to change our marketing mid-stream, or maybe we'd need to look at promoting conferences stronger than we had planned for the normal winter market in a great snow year.”
Furey added that the plan would likely take the form “of a piece information or research that should inform our thinking” and the RMOW is asking Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler to contribute funds to its development, in addition to the $5,000 in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds proposed in the report.
Part of the recommendation also calls for the consideration of expanded weather-independent attractions in the resort, which, on the municipal end, could include additional programming at Whistler Olympic Plaza and the expansion of programs and products at Meadow Park Sports Centre.
John Dunbar, co-owner of the Bounce Acrobatic Academy, said he's heard from guests who visit the Function Junction facility that they're looking for more indoor recreation options in the resort.
“I hear it all the time from people who are looking for more options in the bad weather. They can come here, or go climbing or go to Meadow Park, but other then that there's not much to do (during bad weather),” he said.
In operation for two years, Dunbar said Bounce will be expanding next week to include more trampolines.
The report's recommendation is all part of the effort to offer a more balanced experience to resort guests and locals, said Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher.
“I think our outdoor product is our signature draw in both summer and winter. The thinking is around what the components are that drive spring and fall, as well as build upon summer and winter, so it's everything from meetings' business to potentially looking at weather-independent opportunities,” she said. “We've certainly tossed around some ideas but it's not necessarily for us to create those ideas but to open it up for private businesses to consider filling in those gaps.”
The report also recommended looking at ways to build upon the Whistler Holiday Experience, and potentially offer similar indoor programming during other busy periods in the resort. For the past seven years the Whistler Holiday Experience, produced by Watermark Communications, has offered family-oriented activities at the Conference Centre during the holiday season, and last year included bouncy castles, a café, mini-golf course and a gaming room for teens.
“It's great that the RMOW is looking to expand a program I think addresses some significant family needs in the resort,” said Watermark president Sue Eckersley. “As a resort we are heavily marketing to families to come here, and it's great the RMOW is seeing some potential gaps in services and addressing those.”
Eckersley has already been in discussion with Tourism Whistler, which operates the Conference Centre, to organize more family-based activities during spring break and Easter similar to those offered during the Christmas season. However, that kind of programming would be “dependent on whether the Conference Centre is available or whether potentially a hotel would be donating their space.”
“The reality is (Tourism Whistler's) first choice is to have conferences in the Conference Centre, which is drawing new people and not simply just providing a venue to put on these types of events,” Eckerlsey said. “But I think it's great they're considering expanding that programming.”
Plans for improvement to this year's holiday programming include ramping up the décor at the Conference Centre, said Eckersley, although she wants to ensure taxpayers' dollars are being used in the most effective way possible. The Whistler Holiday Experience received $75,000 in RMI funds last year.
“We are going to look to step it up a little bit this year, but we're going to try and do it very cleverly because at the end of the day the two to 12 year olds that are ripping around there… don't care that it's just white walls,” she said. “So does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars on doing décor, or does it make more sense to put that money into programming, additional (bouncy castles), or other things?”
The EPI Report is expected to come before council for final approval on Nov. 5.