Economic Viability

Chapter 6

What it’s about

Sustaining the tourism economy with a strong, local authentic mountain culture, and balancing activity throughout the year rather than having peak seasons and shoulder seasons.

Whistler is a bustling resort community with stable year-round visitation and business activity. Local businesses flourish and generate sustainable livelihoods for residents and economic returns for investors, while delivering an authentic mountain experience for all. Whistler has a stable workforce supported by the business community and employees are able to enjoy a high quality of life. Tourism remains the primary driver of Whistler’s economic success, supported by compatible tourism-related activities that provide a healthy diversified marketplace.

Whistler was designed as a destination resort and the community supports ventures that complement tourism to maintain its attractiveness as a destination resort. Whistler has proven to be resilient through collaboration and partnerships. The resort’s success continues to be based on its ability to promote meaningful and vibrant experiences and offerings that represent core values associated with Whistler’s mountain culture, and differentiate Whistler with unique and authentic character, products and services. These range from the core recreational activities to shopping and dining, along with relevant festivals, events and arts and cultural activities, meetings and conferences, as well as spa and wellness retreats.

Whistler’s prosperity and resilience is due in part to its ability to track and adapt to external trends, such as globalization, demographic changes, upward pressures on energy and transportation prices, and growing competition—as well as tracking the quality of the resort experience. Through proactive strategies and commitment to community values, Whistler maintains its position as a leader among destination mountain resort communities.

Community investments in municipal facilities, works and services, operations, maintenance levels and community programming including events are an important factor in maintaining the authentic mountain experience. Investments undergo scrutiny to maximize benefit to the resort community and minimize taxpayer impact, ensuring the highest and best use of limited financial, social and natural resources in the long-term. Costs are shared equitably among visitors, residents and investors through a user-pay and pay-as-you-go approach for services such as recreation, parking and utilities. Revenues from this approach are placed in reserve funds to pay for infrastructure projects, while also pursuing financial contributions from senior levels of government and, wherever feasible, avoiding debt financing and associated borrowing costs. These are the foundations of the Five-Year Financial Plan, Whistler’s budget document and plan for efficient fiscal planning and investment.

Designed as a destination resort community centred on a pedestrian-friendly Village at the foot of two world-class alpine skiing mountains, Whistler’s economy is primarily based on tourism. In 2016, Whistler attracted over three million visitors setting new records for several monthly results.

With the number of visitors to Whistler recently reaching peaks in both summer and winter periods, businesses have also increased their need for staff; however, this demand has not always been fulfilled. The strong visitation growth has provided the opportunity for the accommodation and mountain activities sectors to drive higher pricing and margins, driving up visitor spending. These higher prices are influencing the visitor mix, as some visitors are deterred by high costs, while others with a higher socio-economic level have been attracted. There is potential for higher prices to also have an impact on lowering the overall level of visitation with a change in mix; however, it is important to balance both regional and destination guests to support the resort through economic peaks and troughs. Peak visitation periods need leveling off to minimize the impact on the resort experience for visitors and residents, while shoulder seasons may continue to grow to provide a balanced year-round business environment.

As a tourism-dependent local government, the municipality faces inherent revenue uncertainty greater than that faced by municipalities with more diverse local economies. Revenue sources to maintain the authentic mountain experience are primarily tied to visitation and associated tax mechanisms. While Whistler has experienced recent growth, the impact to taxpayers of cost increases or required new services has been cushioned through revenues generated by increasing visitation. However, as Whistler has recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, it is also experiencing the effects of aging infrastructure, which requires investment for rejuvenation and ongoing revitalization. While it is noted that many factors affecting visitation are well beyond the municipality’s influence, with expected eventual declines in revenue sources, alternative sources of revenue or reduced expenditures are required.

Whistler has many externalities that directly impact its viability and competitiveness. For example, changing global economic conditions, currency fluctuations, climate change and shifting demographic travel patterns all have causal effects on the resort and the community as a whole. Changes in the mix of regional versus destination visitors change occupancy patterns and revenue generation. Many of these factors, which can have the potential to dramatically change the economic viability of Whistler, are well beyond the municipality’s influence. For example, the 2008 economic recession had a prolonged impact on Whistler and many businesses and community members were negatively impacted. Recovery was slow and challenging. Accordingly, the municipality has a role as a community leader to carefully monitor these external variables and be attentive in economic planning to contribute to the continued success of the resort community.

The municipality is committed to being fiscally responsible and at the same time must continue to invest in infrastructure, amenities and services, which are integral to the authentic Whistler mountain experience.

Click the ‘Objectives & Policies’ to display additional content.

6.1. Goal Provide effective and appropriate municipal infrastructure (including facilities and amenities) that minimizes taxpayer costs, and consider allocating the value of infrastructure replacement to future users.

Text Box: The municipality makes plans for annual replacement of certain infrastructure components. Historically, the municipality has funded this work with money on-hand in our reserves. These reserves have been built up over time to fund infrastructure replacement using a savings approach rather than a borrowing approach. However, it is recognized that there will be occasions where borrowing for infrastructure replacement will be the best course of action. The municipality will carefully consider the appropriateness of funding infrastructure through borrowing versus through cash-on-hand. Further, instead of being based on historical costs, reserve amounts are established at levels calculated to be sufficient to meet projected future costs.

Timely reinvestment in infrastructure in part recognizes Whistler’s importance beyond its boundaries. As such, it is appropriate in some circumstances to seek cost-sharing from senior levels of government.

6.1.1. Objective

Ensure capital reserves and borrowing ability are maintained at levels sufficient to fund future infrastructure construction or replacement. Policy

Continuously evaluate Whistler’s method of infrastructure financing through a savings approach and continue to save for future infrastructure needs, while considering the advantages of funding future replacement through borrowing. Policy

Maintain the policy of basing contributions to infrastructure replacement reserves on projected replacement cost, not on historical cost. Policy

Pursue and maximize senior government contributions in funding municipal infrastructure. Policy

Rationalize and prioritize capital investments that have the greatest impact on maintaining the resort community and its appeal to visitors and residents. Policy

Where required or prudent, consider borrowing to finance new infrastructure projects.

6.2. Support a stable Whistler workforce that contributes to a superior quality of experience for our visitors and residents and helps maintain Whistler’s competitive position.

6.2.1. Objective

Support Whistler’s workforce by encouraging employee-focused initiatives related to customer service, affordable housing, living wages and resident retention. Policy

Recognize the important roles Whistler’s workforce play in the success of Whistler’s tourism economy and encourage appropriate training initiatives related to providing a high level of customer service. Policy

Encourage recruitment and retention strategies to attract and maintain an appropriate supply of labour and mix of skills needed in the resort commensurate with sustainable and balanced resort community capacity. Policy

Recognize that the availability of appropriate labour supply is linked to business success and as such businesses play a key role in enabling the workforce to live and prosper in the community. Policy

Recognize Whistler’s living wage and communicate with resort partners about opportunities for using the range of living wage concepts. Policy

Support housing initiatives that address Whistler’s employee housing needs and provide for a stable workforce, supporting business operations with a high level of service, while retaining consistency with planning and land use policies.

6.3. Goal Implement and monitor the Five-Year Financial Plan.

6.3.1. Objective

Ensure alignment of long range financial planning with the Five-Year Financial Plan and OCP. Policy

The Five-Year Financial Plan will provide the framework for efficient financial planning and investment consistent with the goals, objectives and policies of the OCP. Policy

Review economic indicators to gauge the economic health of the community to ensure that Whistler’s economic performance is aligned with the Community Vision.

6.4. Goal Reduce reliance on property taxes.

6.4.1. Objective

Consider a range of funding sources such that taxypayer contributions via property taxes are balanced with visitor contributions in a sustainable way. Policy

Support the user-pay approach to municipal services while taking into consideration affordability measures and the policies of this OCP. Policy

Identify alternative revenue streams, in part by allowing development of fee generating industries that are compatible with tourism and the overall goals, objectives and policies of the OCP. Policy

Emphasize resourcefulness across the municipality while delivering cost-effective and affordable service excellence. Policy

Implement new tools and procedures to minimize revenue uncertainty related to provincial revenue sources.

6.5. Goal Support sustainable diversification compatible with the tourism economy.

6.5.1. Objective

Support the commercial sectors through economic diversification compatible with Whistler’s four-season tourism economy. Policy

Support increased cultural, education and learning, arts, entertainment, events, sport tourism, and health and wellness opportunities that diversify our tourism-based economy using existing infrastructure. Policy

Work with resort stakeholders to pursue diversification opportunities that are appropriate and complementary to our infrastructure. Policy

Support shoulder-season tourism development opportunities, including weather independent options based on recreation, arts, events and festivals that use existing infrastructure. Policy

Develop and support strategies and technologies that reduce energy consumption and emissions by focusing on local sourcing, waste reduction, energy and land conservation, and low-carbon emissions that connect sustainability to our tourism economy. Policy

Provide leadership in sustainability and a progressively sustainable tourism-based economy. Policy

Support the development and implementation of a comprehensive Sport Tourism Strategy by the Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society and other stakeholders.

6.6. Goal Support a vibrant, growing and successful local business community.

6.6.1. Objective

Strengthen support for local business. Policy

Develop a municipal culture that seeks to deliver municipal services in a manner that supports local businesses. Policy

Work with resort partners to deliver an unparalleled arrival experience for our resort guests. Policy

Support new and existing businesses that enhance the use of local Whistler skills and expertise and support the authentic mountain culture. Policy

Explore opportunities to incorporate Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation owned and operated businesses into the local business economy.

6.6.2. Objective

Support local business through effective land use and supporting programs. Policy

Support and encourage community-based businesses that enhance Whistler’s character and authenticity.

6.7. Goal Sustain efficient, appropriate and revitalized Whistler land uses.

6.7.1. Objective

Ensure that the resort community’s investments in the built environment provide optimum levels of service and are continually renewed. Policy

Support repurposing, reusing and optimizing built space instead of constructing new buildings. Policy

Consider rezoning or repurposing land and buildings, including municipal lands, for lease or use by businesses and organizations that showcase business practices that are:

  • (a) sustainable;
  • (b) financially viable;
  • (c) supportive of the community;
  • (d) community development-oriented; and
  • (e) environmentally-friendly.
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