november 2016 | Knowledge Exchange
Meetings Are a Significant Economic Driver for Whistler
Whistler in British Columbia, Canada, is best known as a ski resort, but meetings and events have become increasingly important for the city’s economy.
The mayor of Whistler, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, told Meetings International:
“Meetings and group business is a significant economic driver for Whistler, traditionally representing approximately 30 per cent of summer room nights.”
Room nights generated by the Whistler Conference Centre have historically been more than 50,000 annually. The highest demand is between April and October. Conference and group bookings grew significantly in 2015, accounting for one in four summer room nights.
“Results from the 2016 summer season are still being formulated, but are expected to be on par,” says Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
The resort, which has a permanent population of 10,000, has become a popular destination for international meetings.
“These provide a great opportunity for attendees to meet with other experts from around the world and share their knowledge. Whistler is a great place to put on an event. We are pleased to be able to provide the space and support for such meetings to occur and we make the process simple and informative.”
“The city is a leader in sustainable resort community planning and development, located in a natural mountain environment and home to a vibrant community of active, engaged and innovative residents. These attributes provide an inspirational setting for international meetings and dialogue.”
The convention and tourism bureau, Tourism Whistler, is the prime mover in marketing the city and works closely with local partners such as the Whistler Blackcomb resort, a number of associations representing hotels, restaurants and retail merchants and, not least, local government, the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
“Tourism Whistler is the resort lead for bringing meeting, conference and incentive travel business to our city. Their conference sales team is responsible for soliciting meetings and incentive business and providing additional meeting space to hotels that do not have sufficient space to house under-one-roof business.”
“When generating group business, the bureau believes it is critical to be aware of a group’s sponsors as they develop an itinerary that not only exceeds delegates’ needs, but also work to potentially leverage relationships with sponsors.”
“Hosting conferences is very important work for Whistler and our municipal government supports a strong and successful meetings program. The municipality has two representatives on Tourism Whistler’s board of directors and invests in ongoing improvements to the Whistler Conference Centre, which is operated by Tourism Whistler.”
The municipal government also provides support when needed in bidding processes to obtain meeting and conference business.
“The convention bureau handles the bidding process for most group business, although our larger meetings hotels also secure group business on their own. The municipality is not typically involved directly in the bidding process, unless it is directly related to our business function. For example, we are involved in bidding on, and securing, group business such as the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention. The municipality is pleased to get involved in supporting conference bids on behalf of the community.”
“Securing group business is essential for our city’s ongoing success. When we are involved in a bid we always look for ways to add value for the client. This could be in the way of financial considerations, such as the conference centre providing complimentary services like food and beverage components, Wi-Fi, transportation, or it could be through in-kind support.”
The resort is continuously looking for new approaches to boost business in the low season and is planning strategically for long-term event-related growth.
“Tourism Whistler and the business community prioritise goals such as increasing year-round occupancy and building business during mid-week and shoulder periods in order to grow group business.”
“Looking further ahead, as a resort community we are always working to further grow and develop meetings and incentive business. We will continue to work with partners and our business community to foster relationships that will help us achieve these goals, to the benefit of the entire resort. For example, we will work to involve local businesses and association representatives to ensure we are leveraging all of the resources and connections within the resort for soliciting and securing group business.”
Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says her role as mayor offers her an opportunity to give visitors a welcoming first impression on behalf of the Whistler community.
“I am often called on to provide remarks at conferences and events. Offering a warm welcome to these gatherings is an important part of ensuring attendees have a positive experience while in our resort.”