When the Resort Municipality of Whistler first started down the path of developing a long-term plan that ultimately resulted in the Whistler 2020 Vision, there was tremendous resistance to the idea of including any sort of economic consideration in the process or the plan. In retrospect, one can only label as stunning the idea that a municipal government in a world-class resort could conceivably reject the notion that economic considerations, and in particular analysis of the factors which contribute to Whistler’s success, were of crucial importance.
The turnaround that this Council has engineered on economic issues is equally stunning. Sure, the councils before the Olympics recognized the value of hosting the Olympics, although I sometimes wonder whether I am the only councillor who has had second thoughts about whether some of the assumptions on which we proceeded were valid. The council during the Olympics managed to stay out of the way and let staff do their job.
It is the current council who has recognized the overriding importance of understanding the variables that drive our local economy, and setting out an action plan to address our weaknesses. The first very large step in the right direction is the Summary of Key Findings report produced by the Economic Partnership Initiative. Given that the report is 56 pages long and is densely packed with information, much of which is intriguing, the report is misnamed. It is far more than a summary report.
It is an interesting read for those with the time. For those who like pictures better than words the report is filled with charts and graphs, which communicate useful information. For those who want to cut to the actual summary the key findings and strategies can be found on three pages.
In most respects the report is encouraging. In one respect, however, the report leaves me cold. The report contains a clear identification of the changes we need to make so that our guests enjoy the experience and want to come back. Unfortunately the report is light on the changes we need to make to our marketing strategies to entice guests to make the buying decision in our favour in the first place.
I have long maintained that we spend too much time gazing at our own navels and not enough time and energy thinking about new ways to convince guests to come here. In the last couple of months I have seen ads in both provincial and national newspapers that are the same old shtick and have not changed in concept for 20 years.
Are these ad campaigns even properly conceived? Does a back-lit close-up of an obviously expert skier blasting down a rocky 45-degree pitch in deep snow reach out to the sort of guest we want to attract, or do these ads evidence a lack of imagination? There have been some creative efforts along the lines of the “bring a guy to town” or “send us your picture,” but are these sorts of efforts enough?
Arguably local citizens became tired of the exploration of big ideas such as the Olympics and sustainability, with their attendant consumption of time and resources, and chose to elect a council that would put our own house in order.
On the other hand, I am not confident that the Economic Partnership Initiative in its present manifestation will produce the results we need. It is arguable that the membership of the committee is far too narrow. Where are the young bloods? Why isn’t Julia Murray on the committee? Was she even asked? Where are the crazy people like Bushwoman? Where’s Ace?
Perhaps the next step is to gather the community again, like we did for the Olympics and like we did when we thought we could save the world with our sustainability plan. Only this time let’s figure out how to save ourselves and put our resort back where we should be — on top.