Whistler riding high

There is scarcely any better skiing than in the Canadian Rockies.Indeed, the numbers show Whistler Mountain in B.C. has more visitors than any other ski resort in Canada, and is second only to Vail, Colo.That's not a bad showing for a...

There is scarcely any better skiing than in the Canadian Rockies.

Indeed, the numbers show Whistler Mountain in B.C. has more visitors than any other ski resort in Canada, and is second only to Vail, Colo.

That’s not a bad showing for a town – Whistler – that is only 12 years old with a year-round population of 5,000.

Local marketing

David Perry, director of marketing for Whistler Mountain Ski Corp., pins the resort’s success on some very local marketing.

‘We concentrate our efforts in Vancouver because our roots are as a regional resort, and 65% of our market still comes from Vancouver,’ Perry says.

Within that target, he says Whistler focusses on the middle- to upper-income families and the young adult.

Own backyard

What Whistler tries to do is let this group know it has one of the finest ski resorts right in its own backyard.

Perry says the company instills pride in Vancouverites, telling them Whistler is all theirs.

To build this connection, he says the resort uses a three-pronged attack.

The first two prongs are advertising and promotions, but the third prong, and the most important of them, is building relationships with the regular skiers at Whistler.

‘Primarily it’s paying very close attention to your core loyal target group,’ Perry says.

‘We take our regular skiers and our season pass-holders – the people who make a financial commitment to visit the resort – and we correspond with them very closely and regularly,’ he says.

Involves key group

Perry says Whistler involves this key group in its decisions.

He says it does not just send them a survey to fill in, but asks them what they would like for Whistler, and informs them before informing other markets about expansions and things of that sort.

‘We treat them as insiders and that their opinions are very valuable to us,’ Perry says.

‘As a matter of fact, it goes beyond that, because we need their opinions, and we depend very much on their opinions on how we need to grow or expand or improve,’ he says.

What this means, Perry says, is this core group sees tangible evidence of its opinions taking shape.

More and more service

By staying plugged into this core group, Whistler has found out it regularly expects more and more service and quality from the resort, he says.

There is a tangible reason and an emotional reason for the core group to visit Whistler, Perry says. And for the last 12 years, Whistler has spent heavily to build up the tangible reasons for visitors to keep returning.

‘That’s [meant a] massive capital expansion of lift facilities and new terrain and restaurants and shops and trails,’ he says.

‘The resort, collectively, and all the companies within the resort have made a huge capital investment into the resort in recent years.’

In part, Perry says this expansion has been fuelled by the competition between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain for visitors from a city 90 minutes away.

‘Our target market, our core loyalists have come to expect to have this almost continual capital expansion because they’re the beneficiaries of it all,’ he says.

According to Perry, what this means, because of this expectation, is that Whistler cannot let its service slip or its facilities deteriorate.

A challenge

And he says that is a challenge, a challenge to exceed customers’ expectations.

‘The only way to satisfy guests in the service business is to exceed their expectations,’ Perry says.

As for his general experience with the Vancouver market, he points out there are sometimes considerable differences with central Canada.

Vancouver is not as connected to central Canada as central Canadians might think, Perry says, adding the mountains create a natural geographical barrier.

‘We’re surrounded here in Vancouver by the mountains to the east and the ocean to the west, and we feel probably a kinship with our neighbors to the south in Washington state down through California,’ he says.

West Coast mentality

‘There’s a West Coast mentality that is shared here as opposed to a shared East-West mentality.’

What that means for someone marketing a product in Vancouver with an ad campaign or positioning decided in Toronto is that it could be ineffective.

‘For one thing, the West Coast mentality is one of favoring life and partaking of all the things life has to offer and doing so at a slightly different pace or in a different balance,’ Perry says.

Vancouverites take work time and leisure time and try to balance it, he says.

Sales

‘People in Vancouver do not welcome high pressure sales,’ Perry says.

‘They do not welcome hit-them-over-the-head-with-a-sledge-hammer type of marketing campaigns,’ he says. ‘They are more responsive to a more subtle, softer sell approach.’

And, he notes with a post-referendum chuckle, British Columbians are concerned about being recognized as distinct.