Growth for growth’s sake is rarely a good thing. It’s been said many times and in many ways that Whistler is overbuilt for tourism, that there are just too many hotel rooms and beds to fill and the level of competition is keeping rates down.
As a result, Whistler is at a crossroads where we can either hold fast to our bed unit cap or try to develop our way back into some kind balance — an approach that could potentially damage destination tourism, which we now know is about 85 per cent of the local economy.
In the end, the “should we stay or should we grow” dilemma had a lot to do with council’s decision on the proposed Whistler International Campus. The number of bed units requested was just too many for councillors to consider without an extraordinary community benefit.
All credit to Doug Player for creating a vision of what the WIC could look like and the benefits it could bring to Whistler. He worked hard for six years to develop the plans, but the sheer size of this proposal worked against it as much as the location.
History will tell if council made the right decision, but at the very least it will be said that council protected Whistler’s key interests and industries. Council also made it clear that they weren’t voting against the concept of higher education, but against a private project too big for Whistler’s plans.
Council’s decision clearly set a tone for moving ahead. Everybody wants to grow the economy and increase visitor numbers, but it seems that the new mandate is to accomplish that with the infrastructure and development rights we already have. Education should be part of that growth mix, using existing facilities and beds — open boardrooms and hotel rooms, or at least undeveloped bed units that are still on the books.
To that end, a successful diversification plan might actually result in a shrinking of the resort. Hotel rooms could be repurposed for education and other diversification projects, cutting down on the total inventory and increasing occupancy rates in the process. It’s a system of growing without growth, maximizing resources the same way that diversifying into summer tourism boosted the local economy without requiring much in the way of new infrastructure.
Municipal Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey said at least two additional higher education proposals are in the works, and we’ve seen a lot of other interesting proposals recently in the areas of cultural tourism, senior tours, conference business and enterprise start-ups.
Diversification is already happening in countless small ways that add to the resort without adding much of anything at all. The WIC proposal was not Whistler’s only hope moving forward.
— Andrew Mitchell