Event Tourism Strategy

Whistler's largest resort partners, Tourism Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb Mountains, recognized in March 2007 that there was a need to develop a resort-wide Event Tourism Strategy to help Whistler expand upon its ventures that complement tourism (i.e. events) in an effort to build and stabilize customer visits. This strategy evaluates the role of event tourism (as an economic driver for Whistler, consistent with the Resort's Whistler2020 vision1), explores the impact of event tourism on the Resort's stakeholders, community and its guests, and provides recommendations for Whistler to reach its vision for events ("Whistler is an internationally recognized tourism destination - renowned for its superior quality and diverse events - making it a place to visit again and again"). Specifically, it addresses the following goals for event tourism:

  • Grow and promote a portfolio of events that supports Whistler's brand, values and needs, and enhances Whistler's image (focusing on Whistler's existing events).
  • Develop the infrastructure to support large events in Whistler.
  • Access funding to grow events in Whistler.
  • Streamline Community Partner roles & responsibilities to better serve events.

To date, Whistler has hosted a wide range of events from small local gatherings and regional celebrations, to "signature" events attracting national and international attention. In addition to annual festivals and events, animation has also played an integral role in enlivening the Resort and the guest experience. At the other end of the event scale, Whistler will also be a host venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, a "mega" event that is already garnering international attention for the Resort.

Whistler's stakeholders, specialists in the field of event tourism and destinations that are already engaged in event tourism strategies widely accept that it is necessary to adopt a long-term, strategic approach to event tourism in order to realize the full tourism potential of events. The stakeholders interviewed for this strategy also support an integrated approach that considers both the needs of the guest (or "event tourist" or "tourist") and the community. They unanimously agree that authentic, organic events that celebrate the destination and are aligned with Whistler's brand and values have much greater potential to grow and attract new and repeat visitation.

Since the majority of Whistler's most recognized regional and "signature" events have been established over time, it is important that Whistler's Community Partners continue to focus on nurturing existing events and look for opportunities to grow smaller events into economic generators for the Resort (i.e. attract regional, national and international event tourists). Smaller, grass roots events are typically championed by locals and therefore have already established some level of community buy-in and participation. These events are also more likely to reflect the values, community passion and products of the Resort, and provide a competitive edge over other destinations (e.g. other resorts).

It is also recognized that there are some gaps in Whistler's event portfolio (i.e. specific types of events) and event calendar (i.e. times of the year when there are no events). This provides an opportunity for Whistler to attract and develop new events that can potentially fill these gaps and attract new and repeat visitation during key times of the year. Continuing to focus on Whistler's unique and natural attributes and talents as well as the products that Whistler offers will be key to setting the destination apart from its competitors and ensuring that events remain authentic and aligned with its brand, garnering greater community support and tourism appeal.

Marketing is necessary in generating awareness and attendance for events. Based on the vast number of distribution channels managed by Whistler's Community Partners and the in-resort expertise in marketing, promotion and communication, there is a great opportunity to develop an integrated marketing and communications strategy that helps grow Whistler's event image and reaches tourists who may or may not have visited Whistler for its events.

By leveraging each organization's expertise and resources, and streamlining processes, funding and communication, there is an opportunity to create a centralized event model that will not only help grow existing events, but attract, support and develop new events that fit Whistler's needs. Subsequently, by developing and attracting events that showcase Whistler's core products and talents, and promoting events through an integrated marketing program, Whistler has the potential to generate new and repeat business, and sustain a healthy and engaged community.

To ensure there is sufficient support for third party event producers and that Whistler continues to embrace new event opportunities, it is suggested that the Community Partners primarily focus on areas of event production and support that are aligned with their organizational strengths, resources and responsibilities.

  • Event operational planning and on-site support (Resort Municipality of Whistler and Tourism Whistler for resort-wide events; Whistler Blackcomb for on-mountain events; and Whistler Arts Council for arts and culture events)
  • New event solicitation (Tourism Whistler, in consultation with other Community Partners, for resort-wide events; RMOW and WB for venue-specific events)
  • Community arts and culture programming (Whistler Arts Council)
  • Event ticketing and package sales support (Tourism Whistler)
  • Supplemental marketing and communications support (Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb)

With the quantity and diversity of Whistler's events that directly or indirectly involve multiple organizations and individuals, it is recommended that the Community Partners form an Events Working Committee comprising Tourism Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb, the Whistler Arts Council, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and other relevant organizations. The purpose of this committee is to meet regularly and communicate upcoming event activities and opportunities in an effort to streamline support, leverage communication and promotional opportunities, and share event resources and best practices.

It is recommended that the Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler reconfigure their existing event budgets and resources to develop an environment that provides the necessary funds, roles and skills to nurture, solicit and grow events. Tourism Whistler would be accountable for providing marketing, sales (solicitation), communication and research services and expertise, and ultimately driving tourists to Whistler to experience events. The RMOW and other Resort partners would be responsible for supporting events through resort planning, event operational support, in-kind services, venue use and communication through their respective distribution channels. Recognizing that "mega" events have the potential to generate significant media coverage and usually require an investment from the host resort, e.g. World Cups, it is also recommended that Tourism Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb designate annual funds to support these one-off events.

The main findings in this document indicate that there is a need to align and focus on the core competencies of the Resort's key stakeholders in order to support a collaborative approach to event tourism. Specifically, the findings support organizations focusing on their main areas of expertise and utilizing their current resources (funding and staff) to develop and support the growth of events in Whistler.

It is also recognized that there are potential synergies in merging the Whistler Arts Council and Maurice Young Millennium Place. These synergies include housing both teams in one location, streamlining arts and culture programming, and creating greater synergies with existing funding from the Resort Municipality of Whistler and other government bodies. This group would adopt arts and culture events that are currently being produced by organizations that do not necessarily have the adequate resources to produce events, e.g. Canada Day Parade.

Fulfilling the recommended vision for event tourism will help guide the strategy and ensure that all of the stakeholders are working collectively in reaching a common goal for the greater good of the Resort. Once some fundamental ground work has been accomplished, e.g. clarifying roles and responsibilities, developing an Event Framework and reconfiguring resources, Whistler will be better positioned to support the growth of event tourism, specifically filling gaps in Whistler's event calendar, animating the Resort year-round, and identifying opportunities to improve and/or develop new venues for larger events.

1 Whistler2020 - Ensuring Economic Viability, page 37 and 41.