The Big Idea: Hosting Whistler’s biggest little holiday party

With the sales and celebrations of Thanksgiving behind us, businesses are setting their sights on the winter ahead.

With that, holiday season plans start to take shape, including the enduring tradition of the company Christmas party. An annual office gathering is good for business in many ways — connecting coworkers, building company culture and celebrating the year’s achievements. However, for tiny offices with tight budgets it can be a challenge to create an event with the wow-factor they wish for.

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The team at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler wanted to use their resources to support the small business community, so for the past 15 festive seasons they have been serving up a special holiday dinner and dance package that makes an over-the-top gala possible for all, by bringing multiple businesses together to create one very big party.

“It only takes five people in your company with their spouses or friends and that’s your table. It’s that easy! That’s why it’s accessible to both the mom and pop shop and the bigger corporation,” said Kourtney McKercher, director of conference services and catering at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and a driving force behind this event.

The popularity of the party has grown so much (serving 700 people last year) that this year’s event will go from one night to two Saturday nights in early December. McKercher said a key part of the program’s success is that many offices have turned this into an annual tradition.

“We have repeat groups that come back year after year. We change up the decor, change up the band, the experience. They are comfortable knowing what to expect, but also excited to see what we’re going to do this year,” said McKercher.

Gifting gratitude

An epic year-end bash can define a company culture. It’s a way to express gratitude to staff, especially in close-knit small businesses, which often function like families with a highly invested team.

“You really want the people that work for you to know that you care about them, you care about their families, you care about thanking them and this is a great way to do it,” said McKercher.

For many locals, a formal event offers an uncommon opportunity to dress up and enjoy a special evening in a venue with a luxury setting to match. Last year over half the guests came from Vancouver, where McKercher sees a perfect occasion to offer a unique experience to keep people coming back year after year.

“We think there’s a real opportunity for people in the city to come up, have a great experience for the weekend, get their teams up to Whistler at a time that’s affordable for them and start a new tradition,” she explained.

A big night on a small budget

Small companies often lack the personnel or financial resources for a big event. McKercher and her team want to remove those barriers. They keep small budgets Scrooge-approved by keeping guest room rates low, delivering a buffet feast with all the fixings, offering cash bars, decking the halls in their most extravagant ballroom and hiring an incredible live band.

“What we designed was something that would make all the businesses in town be able to do this outlandishly big — big band, big dance, big dinner — experience with lots of fun decor, an over-the-top experience, that still fits within their budget and is something unique,” said McKercher. “It’s an opportunity to invite everybody in the community, set it at a price that’s really affordable and everybody in that ballroom is in party mode.”

Feeling pampered at your party

With conference services managers personalizing individual experiences for each party this is where the Fairmont team can really make things easier for businesses whose plates are full at this time of year with budgets, AGMs and year-end planning.

“We have the resources, we have the expertise and we’ll do the work. We couldn’t make it any simpler,” explained McKercher. “We take the stress out of their hands.”

Staff who are well versed in the art of delight and surprise can put together pre-party gatherings and arrange finishing touches like customized welcome amenities in guest rooms. For McKercher, the most rewarding part is seeing small business owners with big grins feeling supported and proud of a memorable holiday party for their staff. This annual tradition is truly redefining the possibilities for a small company’s holiday party, proving you don’t need to bring a big budget to the table to get a big experience.

Make business easy — tune in to The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in their sector.

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