Whistler hotel occupancy dropping post-Olympics: report

Jennifer Tice, PR manager at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Image via piquenewsmagazine.com

Hotel occupancy is dropping. So are rates, and so is the amount of money that hotels are making per available room.

Revenue per room night also a concern for hotels

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 13, 2011

Whistler hotels experienced their lowest occupancy in four years in the first quarter of 2011.

“Trends in the Hotel Industry,” a report compiled by Vancouver-based PKF Consulting and commissioned by the BC Hotel Association, shows that Whistler’s hotel occupancy dipped to 64.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, the busiest time of the year for Whistler.

That represents an 8.3 per cent drop from the Olympic year and a 7.6 per cent drop from 2009, the year after the stock market collapsed and the world slipped into recession.

Barrett Fisher, the president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, said the numbers cited in the PKF are consistent with the organization’s own data, though its research covers numbers across the whole resort while, according to her, PKF deals with a smaller sample size.

PKF would not disclose its sample size but a spokeswoman said it was close to Tourism Whistler’s.

“Whistler didn’t experience the worst of the economy due to being buoyed by the Olympic Games,” she said. “So it really wasn’t until the winter of 2010/2011 (that) Whistler saw the lowest point to date …  from a downturned economy. At that point the full effect of the recession had hit.”

Occupancy isn’t the only variable seeing a drop, according to the PKF report. Revenue per available room also fell in 2011’s first quarter, to $153.41 from $243.47 in the Olympic year and $186.38 in 2009.

The average daily rate, meanwhile, representing the average rate per occupied room in the first quarter, was $236.78 in 2011, down from $333.15 in the Olympic year and $257.30 in 2009. That decline indicates that hotels are charging less for rooms in Whistler.

James Chase, the chief executive officer of the BC Hotel Association, said the report shows an increasing pressure on hotel revenues.

“What’s well documented, I think, is that the long-haul customer has a different spending profile than the short-haul customer,” he said. “In the simplified factor, short-haul versus long-haul, you get different spending patterns, you get different results.”

Statistics compiled by Tourism British Columbia indicate that the province overall is capturing fewer long-haul customers and more tourists from regional markets, like from within B.C. and Alberta.

A table provided to Pique shows that between 2006 and 2009, the number of visitors from the United States to B.C. has dropped from 3,518,148 to 2,899,309, a drop of 17.6 per cent. The table also shows that visitors from the Asia Pacific region and Europe have dropped by 18 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively.

At the very same time, British Columbia is seeing more visitors from within Canada. The number of inter-B.C. visitors between 2006 and 2009 has gone up by 7.7 per cent and the number of visitors from Alberta has risen by 41.3 per cent.

“The frequency of the short-haul is greater and their spend pattern is less than the long-haul who will come once and for a longer duration and spend more per day,” Chase said. “The foreign or long-haul visitor is highly sought-after because of that specific reason, because in order to get the same head count, you’d need a lot more foreign, long-haul people to make up for the regional.”

The reason, Chase said, that places like Whistler are having trouble attracting long-haul visitors is that Canada as a country is losing market to international destinations like Rome, Paris and London. He said there are more people making enough money to travel, they’re just not coming to Canada as much as other places.

“Many of the people have already been here before, that’s one factor,” Another, said Chase, is the attraction places like Rome and Paris have to the increasing number of travellers from countries such as India.

“…You’re going to go to Italy, Rome, Paris, all those iconic destinations before you go to Canada,” he said.

“We’re in the process of changing the image of Canada from moose, Mounties and mountains to a more diverse, attractive, multicultural experience.

“You can do almost anything in Canada that you can do almost anywhere else in the world, but just getting that message out is extremely challenging, given the globally-competitive marketplace and all our other competitors.”

Hotels in Whistler are seeking various means to adapt to a lagging industry.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is offering a “Sea to Sky Secret” special for the shoulder season, with $99 nights based on double occupancy for residents of Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.

“We’re obviously lowering our rates during our need periods,” said Jennifer Tice, PR manager at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. “In Whistler we’ve got months where there’s a challenge and this is a way to address that challenge.”

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Whistler businesses want municipality to refocus on economy

Image via reviewsofthefudgyandnutty.blogspot.com

Money is emerging as a key issue in Whistler’s municipal election.

Business owners complain of “red tape” making it difficult to prosper

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 6, 2011

In the lead-up to November’s election, a common theme is emerging from Whistler business owners: the municipality makes it tough to do business here.

Business owners around the community believe it is getting harder to do business in the world’s premier ski resort. Part of that has to do with a stagnant world economy that has manifested itself in Whistler in the form of empty shop fronts and fewer international visitors.

But, according to a number of businesspeople in Whistler, it also has a lot to do with rules and actions being taken at the hall. Taxes are going up – 22 per cent in the past four years – and on top of that they claim the municipality is implementing rules and procedures that make it difficult to add value to a business.

“The role of the municipality is to make it easier for businesses to operate within Whistler,” said Wayne Katz, owner of Zog’s, Moguls and Gone Bakery.

Just putting a new table on a patio at any of his restaurants has to go through a lengthy procedure before it can happen, said Katz, who is also the co-president of the Whistler Restaurants Association, though he spoke to Pique only on behalf of himself.

“There’s a lot of red tape you have to go through to make things happen. So if the processes were easier and more accommodating for the small businesses, ie. there are too many departments to have to go through, it would make it easier and of course it would help business a lot.”

An application for a development permit, for example, would first go to planning staff, then be circulated around to various municipal departments for review.

Depending on the complexity of the development, it would have to be taken to the Advisory Design Panel or the Advisory Planning Commission. Once that’s completed, the applicant could be asked to submit revised plans. If staff is satisfied with the plans, it then goes to council for approval, and even there, council can render a decision or send it back to staff for further review.

The municipality permits a streamlined approval process for additions to buildings or structures where the interior floor space is increased by 20 square metres or less.

“There’s too many things just to do something simple,” said Katz.

Development permits, however, aren’t the only place that business owners feel there are too many rules.

Pat Kelly, a notary public and owner of the Whistler Real Estate Company, said the next mayor and council need to make decisions through the lens of, “Is this good for business?” And, he said, they need to stop living on the idea that people will keep coming because it’s Whistler.

“I know some people in the hall believe the demand for Whistler is inelastic, it doesn’t matter what we do, people will keep coming,” Kelly said. “I think we need to stop thinking people have to come here. We have to earn that, every day, all the time.”

For years now, he said that the municipality, both staff and council, have placed a lot of emphasis on a sustainable vision, fostered through programs such as Whistler2020, which sets out a vision for social and environmental sustainability and a healthy economy.

And while Kelly said that the municipality has spent much time articulating how those visions are important to the business community, he worries that the business side of the vision hasn’t received much focus.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with the need to be sustainable,” he said.

The issue, he added, is that much of the emphasis has been placed on sustaining the environment and a healthy society while not enough has been placed on sustaining the economy.

“Really, only two legs of the stool seem to have been getting the emphasis,” he said.

“I’m not sure there’s an understanding of whether the business community is viable and sustainable under the way it’s been operating.”

One of the reasons Kelly thinks the business community is not operating in a sustainable manner is that there isn’t enough communication with the municipality about how to foster economic activity.

He said a year or so ago, the municipality created a business enhancement committee that had representation from the municipality’s planning department as well as various people from the business community. The committee was excited about getting started on some initiatives but then its work, according to Kelly, got pushed aside in favour of other projects.

That’s unfortunate for Kelly because he said that Whistler is full of people who could be giving the municipality great feedback on how to stimulate business.

“That’s where the solutions lie, is in collaboration, honest and meaningful collaboration and listening to the business community’s solutions,” he said. “Not ‘we can’t do that,’ but let’s see how we can make that work.”

Kelly isn’t the only one with concerns about Whistler2020. Paul Mathews, the president of Ecosign Mountain Planners Ltd., said a focus on sustainability at municipal hall has essentially come at the expense of stimulating business. He wants the next council to change that.

“I think they should put business and economic sustainability on equal footing with this green sustainability,” he said. “We’ve gone, in my opinion, just way overboard on the green stuff. God almighty, the guy writing in the paper, saying we use too much water, look how much we’ve had fall on our heads. This isn’t an issue, having water, it’s just stupid, telling the Saudis they have too much sand or too much sun.”

Mathews’s vision for Whistler involves attracting a new kind of investment to the community. For years he has lobbied the municipality to create a business park to provide an alternative to Whistler Village, where he said lease rates are far beyond what many entrepreneurs can afford. A business park, he hastens to add, that would go beyond what’s currently offered at Function Junction.

“Function Junction is and was meant to be the industrial park, including asphalt plants and concrete, but what we got is concrete, building supplies and layers, a very eclectic mix,” he said.

“We would really love to have a nice place where you can be central to all the transportation systems, including all the trails and everything. You had some offices, maybe some employee accommodation above.”

Such a business park, he said, could attract employers such as Electronic Arts and other firms that do international work and would want a nice place to locate.

“A company like that would love to have an office in Whistler,” he said. “With them would come 200 employees and $200,000 in salaries. There’s something that could help Whistler in future.”

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Nancy Wilhelm-Morden running for Whistler mayor

Image via piquenewsmagazine.com

The Whistler election campaign has begun in earnest. So far it looks like former councillors Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Ralph Forsyth duking it out for the job, although there is still plenty of time to declare.

The divisions are already apparent between these two. Below you’ll find my story about Nancy declaring her candidacy. Below that you’ll find a post by my colleague, G.D. Maxwell, responding to the story and the concerns brought up therein.

What’s most fascinating is that Max’s column has essentially drawn a line in the sand for these candidates. The evidence is beneath that, a Tweet from Ralph responding to Max’s column… and a Tweet that could be a theme that defines this election campaign and that Ralph is seizing on already.

It’s an exhaustive post, but if you read through to the end you get a pretty good sense of the themes that could come up in this campaign.

By Jesse Ferreras and Andrew Mitchell

Whistler’s ballot sheet for mayor and council in the upcoming election just got a little more crowded.

This week saw local lawyer and columnist Nancy Wilhelm-Morden declare for the mayor’s position and designer and drafter Richard Diamond throw his hat into the ring for council.

“Whistler’s at an interesting crossroads and I believe that I do have the skills to help,” said Wilhelm-Morden at a press conference to announce her candidacy officially this week.

Wilhelm-Morden has emphasized experience as part of her campaign. She has served four terms on Whistler council, first in 1984, then again on councils starting in 1988, 1996 and 2005.

While she said that the current council has had “ups and downs” in its three-year term, Wilhelm-Morden said she disagrees with some actions lawmakers have taken when it comes to “fiscal responsibility.”

“Twenty-two per cent tax increases, for starters,” she said when asked to elaborate. “The budgeting process needs improvement. There needs to be fiscal accountability. There’s no reporting back on the performance of the $77 million budget after it’s passed. That’s just the beginning.”

Since her last term on council, Wilhelm-Morden has written a column for the Question newspaper that has been critical of decisions taken at the municipal level.

One in particular has been the ongoing issue of an asphalt plant located close to the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, which served as the Athletes’ Village during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Some months ago, four members of council voted at an in-camera meeting to issue a cease-and-desist order against the plant, which is operated by Alpine Paving (1978) Ltd, and which both the resort municipality and its lawyers maintain above loud objections has a right to operate there. A judge is expected to rule on its ability to operate sometime in November.

Asked whether she would have issued the order were she on the current council, she said, “Absolutely. I would have done that a year and a half before council did it.”

If Wilhelm-Morden were elected mayor, she would be tasked with acting as spokesperson for a community in which she has repeatedly represented clients who have brought lawsuits against some major organizations operating here.

In 2009 she represented clients who brought a lawsuit against Intrawest and Doppelmayr over an Excalibur Gondola accident that trapped their children inside one of its cabins. In 2010 she represented a client who sued the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association for negligence when she was injured during a Toonie Ride.

And later in 2010, she represented a client who brought a lawsuit against the resort municipality after falling into a ditch in the Day Lots in 2008.

Wilhelm-Morden admits that community members have raised concerns about her representing clients who have brought lawsuits against major employers and organizations, but said in many injury cases, when a client brings a lawsuit, it’s usually because they have sustained serious injuries.

“I represent people who bring on lawsuits for compensation from the injuries they’ve sustained as the result of the wrongful act of someone else. If elected as mayor, I will fight as hard for my community as I have for my clients.”

Running for council has been on Diamond’s mind for some time.

“I’ve been talking about it for a number of years now with friends, about what we think needs to be different in town,” he said.

Diamond, who also did planning work in Pemberton and is familiar with both the Local Government Act and Community Charter, said his goal is to represent “the other side of the coin” in municipal debates.

“There’s this other side of the coin that’s usually not discussed or put on the table, although there are a lot of people here that are affected by things,” he said. “There’s a feeling that special interest groups are looked after and not always the community as a whole.”

One example, he said, is employee housing. “Every developer has put a lot of emphasis on employee housing, but we haven’t considered others in the community that could benefit from their contributions in the way of amenity,” he said. “One example is that we hear a lot about the need for another hockey rink. Maybe that’s one of the things we should be getting from developers rather than more (Whistler Housing Authority) housing.”

As another example, he suggested that Function Junction has been left out of spending decisions in favour of investing in the village. In that sense, Diamond said one group of small businesses are being served while another is not. And nobody, he said, is looking out for second homeowners.

Decisions, he said, have to be made in the context of what Whistler has become.

“We’re not a little resort town anymore,” he said. “We’re more like a city. Things have changed a lot, and so have the needs of the community.

Like other candidates, Diamond is also concerned about the growing municipal budget, and said that will be a priority of his as well.

“Fiscally, what we need to do is make some differentiations between what we want, what we need and what’s good for the community as a whole rather than special interests,” he said. “And it’s hard. I’ve worked in local government and I’m familiar with the Acts that govern what council can do and can’t do. It’s harder than people think.

“I’m not saying we need to get rid of people. We can’t do that until we sit down at a table and see what our obligations are under various acts. That’s when we make decisions – trim the fat, find efficiencies, reduce red tape and get out of the way of business (so it’s) not required dealing with the municipality for absolutely everything. We need to make things easier for people, and not harder. And reduce the size of government.”

I object!

By G. D. Maxwell

Q: What is the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?

A: One is a scum sucking bottom dweller and the other is a fish.

I am who I am. I am not what I do. Oddly enough, there are people who don’t understand the distinction. I’m not sure whether they have problems separating who they are from what they do for a living or whether their work is so all-consuming it simply defines them.

Though not an exhaustive list, I have been a gas jockey, draftsman, astronomer, factory worker, steel fabricator, lawyer, banker, writer and hospitality worker. None of those things adequately define who I am and, quite frankly, with the exception of writer, I did them because I had the skills and/or education and, more importantly, because they paid the bills. Had fate been fickler, I’d have done none of those jobs and spent my days frittering away family wealth. I’m sure that activity would have had the pleasant experience of shaping me into something other than what I am but, as Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.”

As much as it pains me to take exception with anything written in so august a publication as Pique, I fear last week’s news piece on the latest fous to enter the mayoral Campagne de Fous left an overwhelming impression that Ms. Wilhelm-Morden was a bit of a catfish. As a recovering lawyer, I take exception.

Generally, this wouldn’t matter to me. I’ve come to understand the lasting impression anything we write in Pique has on the attention span challenged people of Tiny Town. But with the other mayoral fous being on record as referring to his now-announced opponent as an ambulance chaser, I feel compelled to speak out… or at least be similarly slandered myself.

The fact of the matter is, while our brethren south of the border may indeed chase ambulances, that particular activity happens far less often in the socialist paradise of Canada. Simply put, chasing ambulances doesn’t pay the bills up here. Awards for medical compensation are, understandably, mere fractions of what they are in the litigious states of America, given Canada’s universal healthcare. And for whatever reason, Canadian juries aren’t nearly as sympathetic towards injured parties; as a result, they tend to be stingy awarding damages.

Nonetheless, there are people injured in the Great White North and there are negligent acts that need to be addressed and the only people around to do the heavy lifting are lawyers, as satisfying as it might be to sic a biker on someone who hurt you. But just to be clear, lawyers don’t bring lawsuits; their injured clients do. Journalists don’t make news; they report it. Columnists on the other hand….

And while it’s amusing to poke fun at frivolous lawsuits – most of which seem to emanate from the USA, e.g., granny and the, surprise, hot coffee from McDonalds – the fact is, we all benefit in ways we tend to take for granted.

If you’ve ever walked away from a head-on car crash, you probably escaped on the backs of those who didn’t. Not many years ago, if you ran into something with enough speed behind you, there was a good chance your steering column would impale you like a medieval lance, right through the heart. Auto companies didn’t design collapsible steering columns and padded steering wheels because they wanted to be nice. Governments didn’t force them to stop killing people in that particular way. Lawsuits did.

When I was younger, kids not infrequently ended up in burn wards or morgues when their pajamas got too close to open flames, like the ones on candles and fireplaces. If your children’s PJs don’t flare up like flash paper, thank a lawyer. Someone’s kid whose PJs did sued the pants off a manufacturer and spent the rest of their lives grieving.

Does your kettle turn off when it runs dry or tips over? Are there seatbelts in your car? Are your prescription drugs safe? Is your workplace safe? Does your food not make you sick? Thank a lawyer, grudgingly if it makes you feel better, but thank one anyway.

There are people in town pissed off at the latest mayoral fous because a client of hers sued Golden Search & Rescue when his calls for help went unheeded and his wife eventually died of exposure. The case grinds on and may eventually be decided by people who will hear the whole story, unlike anyone who’s already made up their mind.

But by simply having launched the suit, all B.C. SAR groups have benefited because the provincial government stepped up to provide a liability backstop for them, something they should have done a long time ago, given SAR performs a quasi-governmental function on a volunteer basis. That’s a pretty big bonus to rescuers and directors who were facing potentially personal liability, often without even knowing it.

There are people in town pissed off over the suit a client brought against WORCA. But because of that suit, WORCA discovered they were being defrauded by their insurance broker and were running without any liability insurance. That left the directors of WORCA personally liable for damages to anyone injured or, at a minimum, legal fees to defend a claim of negligence leading to injury. When the fraud was uncovered, the same ambulance chaser talked it over with her client and they agreed to drop the suit; neither wanted to go after the directors personally. Oh yeah, and WORCA’s paying a lot more attention to safety these days. What a terrible outcome.

Until people and businesses and governments step up and voluntarily accept responsibility for their negligent acts – inadvertent though they may be – that wind up injuring other people, we’ll need to have lawyers to do the suing for us. If it’s ever been you who’s been the injured party, you understand. For those of you who haven’t, lucky you. If you ever are, the first thing you’ll discover is the other side probably has a lawyer and if you ever want to get anywhere, you’d better get the best one you can find. Our new mayoral fous is one of the best.

But she’s also a strong supporter of this community, having sat on council a total of 12 years and been instrumental in launching and nurturing the Community Foundation of Whistler. And she’s helped any number of people I know in this town get compensated when someone else was responsible for the injuries they received.

So we can make fun of lawyers – Q: What’s black and brown and looks good on a lawyer? A: A Doberman. – and we can even call them ambulance chasers if it makes us feel better about what we do for a living. But compared to, oh, say teaching people to ski steeps, I’ll take the new fous’ accomplishments any day.

@ralphforsyth(Ralph Forsyth)
Ronald Regan wasn’t a Lawyer OR a businessman… Neither was Eisenhower or Nelson Mandela or Stephen Harper or Martin Luther King or Ghandi
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Labour market crunch hitting Whistler

Image via piquenewsmagazine.com

Province projects demand for workers in B.C. to outgrow supply by 61,500 people by 2010

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

August 31, 2011

There’s a labour crunch hitting Whistler and Wayne Katz has seen it first hand.

The owner of Zog’s, Moguls and Gone Bakery said that he’s experiencing a “significant difficulty” in finding labour at his Whistler businesses, a trend that analysts are noticing around British Columbia.

“I’m unable to recruit people,” he said. “We’re getting few resumes and we’re putting ads onto Craigslist as well as (Pique) and the response is limited.

“The industry that I’m in, food and beverage, we find it very difficult to get response from Canadians to work in our industry.”

Katz’s comments are supported by statistics collected as part of the B.C Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020, a joint initiative between BC Stats and the provincial Ministry of Finance.

The report states that demand for workers is expected to increase at a higher rate than the labour force in all regions of British Columbia up to the end of the decade. Demand for workers in the province as a whole is expected to outgrow the labour force by 61,500 workers from 2010 to 2020.

B.C.’s Mainland/Southwest region, which includes Whistler and the Lower Mainland, is expected to account for 65 per cent of job openings over this period, followed by Vancouver Island/Coast with 15 per cent and the Thompson/Okanagan region with 11 per cent.

The trend has given pause to people working in the tourism sector, who now worry that places like Whistler can’t find enough people to fill the jobs coming up.

Indeed, go2, a firm that helps grow the tourism and hospitality industries through various programs and services, recently held a well-attended consultation with the Whistler Chamber of Commerce to help it update a human resources action plan to deal with upcoming labour shortages.

Arlene Keis, go2’s CEO, said her firm is projecting a shortage of 3,500 workers in Whistler up to 2015, much of it a shortage of workers from a younger demographic.

“One-third of the workforce is young people between 15 and 24,” she said. “That youth demographic is declining, which is the biggest problem.

“Canada certainly isn’t going to have enough people and globally markets like Australia are declining, so it’s presenting a real challenge to go after youth.”

The reason, Keis said, is population growth: the generation born after 1980 simply isn’t having as many children as in previous decades.

“People like you are not having enough babies,” she said, pointing specifically to twenty and thirty-somethings. “Generations before you, everybody had four, five, six kids, now a lot of families are choosing not to. That’s why schools are being shut down, because there are not enough students.

“You’ve got people like me who are boomers as well, who are starting to age and retire. So having young people come in, those are our future leaders but there’s not enough of them coming in.”

Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president at the Business Council of B.C., which advocates on behalf of major business enterprises, said a labour market shortage isn’t specific to British Columbia but has been identified on a national scale. He pointed to two causes in particular.

“There is a skill mismatch that exists in the labour market and people debate exactly how large it is, but it’s certainly appreciable,” he said. “Those who are looking for work don’t necessarily have the skills or the interests to fit with the available jobs.

“So that can play a role in creating hiring challenges for employers, and then (another) factor, more specific to Whistler, it’s an even more micro factor, is the high cost of living and housing in that area, relative to the compensation people are given.”

A possible solution to the labour shortage, Finlayson said, could be having a bigger debate about immigration – how many people to let into the country, and what criteria should the federal government be using before they permit them.

Rules around immigration, Katz said, could be one factor hindering the ability of employers to fill jobs. He said he’s had more difficult hiring people since the elimination of the Expedited Labour Market Opinion (E-LMO), a program struck by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada in 2007 that allowed foreign worker applications to be processed in a matter of five business days.

That program ended in April 2010, leaving employers to apply only through the regular Labour Market Opinion (LMO) process, which can take months to process an application.

That has meant bigger difficulties trying to put people in positions at Katz’s businesses and others.

“The people from back east that were in the automotive industry, they’re not coming out here,” Katz said. “In our circumstances out here and our region, we have industry that is definitely having a shortage of labour, but even though there may be a lot of unemployment back east, they’re not moving out here.

“And then of course, here we are, listening to the United States cry, cry, cry that there is a huge recession and that they have a huge amount of unemployment. Why can’t we get more people across the border?”

Mark Herron, general manager at the Four Seasons Whistler, said his hotel is facing a labour shortage in skilled positions such as tailors and high-end cooks. And one of the reasons, he said, could be the termination of the E-LMO program.

“They still have an LMO program, it’s just not as fast as it was before,” Herron said. “The other difficulties might be, there’s a longer time frame on work visa renewals, so those get held up maybe a little longer than what they were before.”

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The impatients

Image via kainagata.com

My final column on Kai Nagata and quitting to get ahead.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

September 15, 2011

I begin this week with a mea culpa.

Two months ago I told you about Kai Nagata, the 24-year-old journalist who rose to the rank of bureau chief at CTV Quebec. Just a few years into his career, his was a rise that was the envy of almost any young journalist working today.

Then, abruptly and sensationally, he quit, detailing in a 3,000-word essay the reasons for his departure and a cavalcade of problems he observed in his short time in television news.

I erroneously referred to him at the time as a classic case of an arrogant Generation Y kid who would not settle for anything less than perfection in his employment. He wasn’t, and I was wrong to suggest otherwise.

Since then, however, his story has changed. After taking some time off to travel and think of a career outside journalism, he has announced that he’s going on a cross-country tour to discuss the state of television news. His tour has a date in Vancouver on September 22, an engagement titled, “Is TV news journalism salvageable?” and 127 people have committed to attending.

Kai’s quick return to lambaste television journalism doesn’t tell us that he quit his job because it wasn’t perfect. Instead, what it tells us is that he’s falling victim to an impatience that is persistently afflicting members of Generation Y.

It’s an impatience fed by a quick-fix culture of American Idol and the blogosphere, tropes that build unrealistic expectations of instant fame and success. And Kai, unfortunately, is a smart young man who’s been caught up in it like so many other members of his generation.

Kai’s impatience is encapsulated in the following passage from his essay: “I thought if I worked my way up the ranks, I could maybe reach a position of enough influence and credibility that I could say what I truly feel. I’ve realized there’s no time to wait.”

His thinking does not get any clearer. He saw a problem in television journalism and he wanted to do something about it; a laudable goal on its own. But instead of bringing himself to a position of influence, perhaps a VP’s job or even a news editor, he thought to make a public show of all that was wrong with the medium.

Instead of climbing a mountain and proclaiming from its summit all that was wrong beneath him, he chose instead to shake a fist at the mountain. He had a mind to climb the mountain, but he opted for the easier path.

In the space of 24 hours his essay was viewed over 100,000 times and Tweeted by luminaries such as Roger Ebert and Margaret Atwood. He was quickly praised as a hero, a Howard Beale-like figure who saw into the soul of Canadian broadcasting and revealed all that was wrong with it.

The reaction was similar to that which greeted Brigette DePape, the former Senate page who disrespectfully flashed a “Stop Harper” sign as the Governor-General read out the Speech from the Throne. She too found followers quickly, among them the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which offered her employment without knowing her qualifications.

The challenge now for people like Kai is to prove they have something to say. At his Vancouver engagement and others, he must prove that he’s seen something both credibly and seriously wrong with television journalism.

As it stands, his insights leave much to be desired. In his essay he writes that few journalists would do what they do as volunteers. He must not have met the countless interns who work for peanuts to gain experience at major television networks.

Kai also writes that a tension existed at CTV between “what the people want to see” and “the important stories we should be bringing to people,” a dynamic that existed also at CBC.

As an example he cited round the clock coverage of the Royal Visit, while atrocities in Libya, incidents that have little to do with Canada, went unreported by the Canadian networks. He seemed surprised by the idea that a news outlet ought to cover stories that people other than reporters want to know about.

If Kai wants to keep on down this path, as the guru of all that’s wrong with television journalism, he needs to bring revolutionary insights that go well beyond the ones cited above. If he doesn’t, he risks flaming out like the Charlie Sheen Torpedoes of Truth tour and doing further damage to his professional prospects than he ever did with his essay alone.

He might well have something important to say, and those interested in hearing it can buy tickets online at http://www.2mevents.com/index.php/event/is-tv-journalism-salvageable-an-evening-with-kai-nagata.

But let this be a warning to Kai, and to anyone else from Generation Y who thinks of taking a leap like he did: there is value in patience. And it takes more than quitting to make you an expert.

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“Whistler Blackcomb goes public” nominated for Jack Webster Award

Image via zootpatrol.com

The Jack Webster Foundation has very kindly nominated Pique’s stories on Whistler Blackcomb going public as a finalist in its Community Reporting category. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on October 24.

You can find some of the nominated stories below:

Whistler Blackcomb to go for $14 to $15 a share, says investor

Sellers looking to sell resort for about $300 million

By Jesse Ferreras

Want a piece of Whistler Blackcomb? Soon you may be able to pick it up for $14 to $15 a share on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In a preliminary prospectus filed with the TSX on Oct. 8, a group of underwriters including CIBC World Markets, RBC Dominion Securities, BMO Nesbitt Burns, TD Securities Inc. and Goldman Sachs Canada Inc. puts a major stake in Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. up for sale to the public.

The prospectus doesn’t include a proposed share price or what stake in a new company – Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc – will be up for sale. However, Pat Kelly, a Whistler investor and head of the Whistler Real Estate Company, said he got a call from his stock broker who told him the price for the initial public offering (IPO) is going to be set at $14 to $15 a share, with a six to seven per cent yield on the dividend.

That means dividends could make investors anywhere from $0.84 to $1.05 for every share they own.

Once the underwriters, led by CIBC World Markets, take Whistler Blackcomb around on a “dog-and-pony show” to various investors, the company will be made available for public investment, according to Kelly.

Asked how he feels about Whistler Blackcomb going public, he said he’s not surprised. He believes the point of the exercise is to help pay down the debts of the parent company, Fortress Investment Group.

“It’s not surprising personally,” he said. “I’m not surprised they would take their primary asset and try to pay their debts down. It would be more interesting if that money was going to be reinvested back into Whistler and the mountains.

“It’s being used to pay down Intrawest and Fortress’s debts, it’s not going to be going back into lift operations or more capital infrastructure.”

In total, 37 million shares are being made available for purchase, according to Kelly, with 21 million going to the public and outside institutions. Intrawest and Nippon Cable, which appears to have increased its stake in Whistler Blackcomb from 23 to 25 per cent, will own the remaining shares of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings.

The new company was registered Oct. 4. Intrawest CEO Bill Jensen is chair of the board of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings. Other board members include Wes Edens, principal of Fortress Investment Group LLC; John Furlong, formerly chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games; and Cam Neely, a former hockey player and now president of the Boston Bruins Hockey Club.

The latter two have likely been appointed to the board in order to bring credibility to the board of directors, Kelly said.

“It’s not unusual to put a high profile guy on your board,” he said. “Every board member should bring something to the table, operations expertise, connections with important players. Certainly when Furlong walks into a meeting, he comes with a tremendous amount of credibility, so does Cam Neely.”

The prospectus provides a broad picture of Whistler Blackcomb’s performance as a ski area, something that hasn’t been available to the public since Fortress purchased Intrawest in 2006. Whistler Blackcomb is described as the largest and most visited ski resort in North America, representing about 11 per cent of total skier visits on the continent.

Over the last 10 years it has averaged about 11 per cent market share of skier visits in the Canadian market and an approximately 2.7 per cent market share of visits in the North American market.

Whistler Blackcomb has averaged approximately 2,070,000 skier visits a year since 1997-98, when Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains merged into a single company, excluding the most recent ski season.

In 2007-08 the resort saw approximately 2,190,000 skier visits; in 2008-09 it had approximately 1,878,000 skier visits; and in 2009-2010, the Olympic year, it had 1,667,000 skier visits, owing to Olympic aversion. Without Olympic aversion management believes Whistler Blackcomb would have had 2.15 million skier visits.

Whistler Blackcomb’s revenues varied over the past three years. In 2007 they totalled approximately $218 million; in 2008, $237 million; and in 2009, $219 million. With expenditures taken into account, the company made a profit of $52 million in 2007; $60 million in 2008; and $51 million in 2009.

Lift operations were cited as the single biggest operating segment for the company, having generated about 50 per cent of the company’s revenue in the 2009 fiscal year, and they represent a key revenue generator throughout the year.

Lift ticket revenue from ski operations represents approximately 85 per cent to 91 per cent of the total lift operations revenue, with the remainder generated by summer activities.

Selling points for the company include competitive strengths such as Whistler Blackcomb’s citation as the continent’s “premier mountain resort,” as well as favourable weather and snow conditions, and infrastructure investment such as the Sea to Sky Highway improvement and increased awareness abroad after the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Investment analysts have noted that Whistler Blackcomb is not expected to grow significantly – the company doesn’t own substantial real estate holdings – so it would be a conservative investment, relying on steady, continuing operations and a loyal clientele.

Whistler Blackcomb is also said to depend on key employees, and the “unanticipated departure” of any key members of the senior management team could have a “material adverse effect” on Whistler Blackcomb and its prospects.

The filing cites key managers including Intrawest CEO Bill Jensen; Whistler Blackcomb President and Chief Operating Officer Dave Brownlie; Doug Forseth, Whistler Blackcomb’s senior vice-president of operations; and Stuart Rempel, Whistler Blackcomb’s senior vice-president of marketing and sales.

Whistler Blackcomb IPO drawing brokers’ warnings

Employees given opportunity to buy shares in new holding company

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 28, 2010

Whistler Blackcomb is not getting a lot of uptake from public investors.

The company, which has been reconstituted as Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. and is being shopped around to potential investors by banks including CIBC World Markets, BMO Nesbitt Burns and TD Bank Securities, is carrying with it some stern warnings from experts in the financial sector.

One of the latest comes from Will Ashworth, a Toronto-based financial analyst who has worked in the industry for two decades. He warned in an article published on the Investopedia website to “avoid Whistler’s big coming out party.”

“In the months following the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Fortress Investment Group went to work trying to sell Intrawest, the ski resort operator it bought in 2006 for a whopping $2.8 billion,” Ashworth wrote. “Its investment has gone downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn did on her gold medal run at Whistler Blackcomb last February.

“Eight months later, with no takers for the company, Fortress has filed a preliminary prospectus that will see it sell off parts of its 75 per cent interest in both mountains to public investors. Hoping to raise $300 million through the IPO, investors are wise to avoid Whistler Blackcomb’s big coming out party.”

Ashworth goes on to write that Fortress is taking Intrawest’s “crown jewel” to the market so that it can relieve the pain of the $1.5 billion debt it assumed when it bought Intrawest.

Whistler Blackcomb is rumoured to have been shopped to Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin, current part-owner Nippon Cable and Vail Resorts, but Ashworth says not one of them was willing to make an offer for the top ski resort in North America.

“This is a telling sign that Fortress is betting the IPO market is frothy enough to overlook some of the inherent risks of owning a resort that’s not growing,” he wrote. “Ignorance is truly bliss.”

Sources requesting anonymity are reporting similar cautions from their brokers.

One possible investor said that he’s asked some questions about the company and hasn’t heard any real positive answers. On a personal level, he was advised not to invest in it, but he might still do so if it’s possible to buy fewer than the 1,500 Common Shares that the company has set out as a minimum investment. The actual price of shares is expected to be announced early next month but it’s expected 1,500 shares would require capital of anywhere between $21,000 and $22,500.

Factors impacting the attractiveness of the product include uncertainty about how much of Fortress’s debt will be transferred to Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. There’s also the fact that it’s a dividend yield and the value of the company isn’t expected to grow.

Pat Kelly, owner of the Whistler Real Estate Company and an investor who has shown interest in buying a piece of Whistler Blackcomb, said he hasn’t heard anything advising him not to buy in but he said the company was already a “medium-to-high risk” when it announced it was going public.

“Consumer confidence isn’t strong right now in general,” he said in an interview. “I think that people are reluctant to, they may be reluctant to step up, which means they may not get the price they’re looking for. And if they don’t, they’ll have to make a decision on whether they proceed or not.

“Clearly there’s money they want to get out of it. If they can’t, I have to assume they’ve already gone the single private investor route. Private investors have looked at the numbers and said, I don’t think so.

“If they go to the public and the public says no, then what?”

Whistler Blackcomb has given its employees an opportunity to purchase shares through a Direct Share Program. The deadline was Oct. 22. They weren’t given much detail, but they were told they would have to buy a minimum of 100 shares, priced tentatively at $14 to $15 a share.

The company is going on the market at the same time that the provincial government is holding consultations towards establishing Community Interest Companies (CIC), hybrid companies that are structured to benefit communities and allow limited investor returns within the model of a for-profit company.

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre said the intent of CICs isn’t to compete with existing non-profits, but to generate profits that can be used for community purposes.

She stressed that CICs have nothing to do with Whistler Blackcomb going public, despite the fact that some Whistler residents have shown an interest in buying into it.

“It’s a for-profit company that has money, real estate holdings, makes money from ski operations,” McIntyre said. “I think that’s completely different, I don’t think that’s what this is designed for.”

The Resort Municipality of Whistler, asked for comment about CICs and Whistler Blackcomb, said it has not had any discussions with the province about establishing any such companies in town and is not working to acquire a piece of Whistler Blackcomb.

Intrawest reduces stake in Whistler Blackcomb

Company allots shares for underwriters

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

November 17, 2010

Intrawest is reduced to the status of quarter-ownership in Whistler Blackcomb after selling $45 million in shares to its underwriters.

The company announced in a news release on Tuesday that banks including CIBC World Markets, RBC Capital Markets and Scotia Capital Inc. have purchased 3,750,000 common shares in Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. at a price of $12 a share.

With the purchase closed, Intrawest is left with about 24 per cent of common shares in the Whistler Blackcomb Holdings, or about 10 per cent less than its stake in Whistler Blackcomb before the underwriters picked up their share.

Public investors and the underwriters now collectively hold 76 per cent of the company, leaving Intrawest as the biggest shareholder but a far cry from majority shareholder in North America’s premier ski resort.

The underwriters were granted an option to buy these shares when they were contracted to help sell the company as it was being put up for sale on the Toronto Stock Exchange. They had 30 days to exercise the option to buy the shares. The proceeds of the sale will go to Intrawest, as Whistler Blackcomb Holdings pointed out in a news release that it would not profit from the over-allotment.

Though it makes clear the stake that Intrawest still holds in the resort, the latest development muddies an already-murky picture of who actually owns Whistler Blackcomb. The 76 per cent that was put up for public sale could be owned by any number of investors.

In Whistler, longtime realtor Pat Kelly has come forward to say he owns shares in the resort but few others have emerged to confirm any ownership of the company. The ownership picture may not become clear until the end of companies’ fourth quarter financial statements, when they have to disclose their holdings to shareholders. That comes at the end of this year.

James Brander, a professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, said with the sale of these shares Intrawest ends up owning “significantly less” of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings than was originally planned.

“This does of course reduce the influence of Intrawest in controlling Whistler Blackcomb,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I assume that Intrawest is still by far the largest shareholder but, with only just under one quarter of the stock, Intrawest will have a smaller role on the Board of Directors and could be outvoted.”

Brander went on to say that the underwriters could sell the shares to their clients but could also keep them for a while. Typically, he said, underwriters take advantage of an over-allotment of shares when they expect strong demand for them.

In a week of trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Whistler Blackcomb Holdings has fluctuated around its original $12 per share price, reaching a high of $12.50 on its first day of trading and a low of $11.90 the very next day before levelling off just over its initial asking price.


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Epicurious: Slow Food, Slow Cycle

Image via sumiredesign.com

My first stab at a food column. Lots of lifestyle writers have this down to a fine art. I hacked through it.

By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

August 25, 2011

When you mow down a cheeseburger, do you think about where it comes from? About the cows whose meat makes up the patty, or about the fields that yield the lettuce?

I don’t – or, at least, I didn’t until last Sunday when I took part in my first Slow Food Cycle Sunday.

In three years of writing about Pemberton I had never experienced first-hand the community’s signature event. Held every summer now for five years (there was no event in 2009), it’s a chance to marvel at the bounty that nature has bestowed on the Pemberton Valley, and how that bounty travels from the ground to your plate.

The Slow Food Cycle began in 2005. Organized in its early years by Pemberton residents Anna Helmer and Lisa Richardson, they saw it as a way to raise awareness of agriculture at a time that development pressures were encroaching on the Pemberton Valley. The first ride marshalled 400 cyclists and the event has grown by leaps since then, attracting as many as 3,000 riders in the summer of 2010.

My first Slow Food Cycle is something of a family affair. I come up from the city on Sunday morning with my mother and father and together we embark on the long trip up the valley. The whole ride covers about 50 kilometres, but we’re not confident of making it all the way.

When the three of us reach a checkpoint at the Miller Creek bridge, we learn at 12:30 p.m. that we are the day’s 3,120th, 3,121st and 3,122nd participants. There are riders ahead and behind us, riding just about every variety of bicycle in existence. By the end of the day an estimated 4,000 cyclists will have taken part… a new record.

You start in the Village of Pemberton, signing up for the ride in amidst simple homes and commercial centres decorated to look like they belong in a John Ford western. Then you’re pointed north, instructed to travel along the Pemberton Meadows Road and visit a series of stations along the way.

The first place we stop is the Pemberton Valley Coffee Company and it’s obvious from the outset that the Slow Food Cycle has moved well beyond its origins to embrace Pemberton businesses alongside agricultural producers.

Here, in the courtyard, Pemberton funk artist Papa Josh entertains a crowd as they enjoy food samples from outlets such as the coffee company, Blackbird Bakery and Nonna Pia’s Balsamic Reductions, which provides four samples of balsamic vinegar. It’s one of the few food samples I’ll actually try all day, owing to my late start on the ride.

Not being a fan of vinegar, these samples are pleasant surprises. One’s classic; others are tinged with flavours like rosemary, lemon and ginger. You get a taste by dipping little pieces of bread into vinegar mixed with oil. It’s how they do it in Europe and it’s about 9,000 times better than slathering your bread with butter.

From there we travelled a fair distance before arriving at our next stop: Riverlands, a 1,240-acre property that leases lots of agricultural land to farmers who follow organic and sustainable practices. Investors at Riverlands include Namasthé Tea and Across the Creek Organics, a prominent producer of the famed Pemberton potato.

At this stop, the Riverlands’ owners have set up an exhibition for Pemberton artists Lynn Pocklington, Karen Love and Dave Steers in a barn. Together they exhibit images of wildlife and nature, with more than a few recreations of the iconic Mount Currie, which towers over the valley and signals to every dyed-in-the-wool Pembertonian that they’re home.

Outside the barn, meanwhile, is a bike sculpture/water wheel designed by Pemberton sculptor Martin Dahinden, who is otherwise known around Pemberton for “eco-tekture” such as a house he made of 85 per cent recycled material.

Around the property you can get a sno-cone, a cup of Namasthe Tea or purchase produce inside the barn. I suggest to my parents, both of them keen epicureans, that they get a pound of Pemberton potatoes. They get a bag of Sieglinde potatoes, spuds that already taste like they’ve been buttered.

From there it’s off to our last stop of the day, Helmers’ Organic Farm toward the far end of the valley. Run by Doug and Jeanette Helmer, mother and father of organizer Anna, this property has been in the family for 100 years.

It lies beneath Copper Dome and the Camel’s Back, two mountains that in the summer of 2009 bore witness to unprecedented forest fires that forced a temporary cancellation of the Slow Food Cycle.

The farm bustles with activity when we arrive. The Helmers tend to a stand where they’re selling all variety of potatoes. I pick up a bag – the very first I have purchased from Pemberton proper.

By the time we leave the Helmer farm we’re too tired to go any further. We get back to the car and I’m dropped off at my place in Whistler, where with potatoes in hand I’ve enough for a steak dinner.

I prepare a T-Bone and slather it with barbecue sauce and cook the potatoes as a side dish. The things are bloody delicious… and all the more so because I know precisely where they came from.

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