Holiday season

Despite Omicron, Holiday Season is Busy for Whistler Businesses

Transit operator recruitment drive underway as Whistler Transit cuts service

Some customers who were looking forward to a hearty Canadian delicacy after a long day of powder snow have been disappointed during the holidays.

“Getting potatoes from Prince Edward Island and cheese curds from Quebec when there are problems with the railroad is something we [had to work through]said Diana Chan, owner of Zog’s and Moguls Coffee House in the Village of Whistler, referring to ongoing damage from record flooding in British Columbia in November.

“On the days when our cheese curds didn’t arrive on time, Zog’s poutine was really just fries and gravy, but we made it,” Chan said. (Fortunately for poutine lovers, Zog’s is now back to its full menu, she added.)

Supply chain issues like those experienced by the local hot dog stand were just one of many challenges Whistler businesses faced during a busy holiday season this winter. With packed hotels and snowy forecasts, a trio of capacity constraints have proven to be the biggest factors preventing Whistler businesses from recognizing their full revenue potential, said Chan, who also serves as chairman of the board of directors of Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

“Whether the [COVID-19] the restrictions that came just before the holidays around restaurant capacity, whether it was limitations due to staff, whether it was limitations due to supply chain,” she said. “If you’re missing your key product, it’s not there to sell.”

For many companies, an ongoing labor shortage was compounded after the Omicron variant tore up Whistler over the holidays. In the last two weeks of December, most of the station’s business community saw “a rolling average of 30%” of its staff unable to work on any given day.

“We saw this recovery just before the school holidays,” Chan said. “And it really got everyone on deck.”

At Moguls and Zog’s, “the team never saw me so much – I was on the line for days in a row,” she added. “But it actually brought back a bit of that Christmas spirit. So how did we get through? With an incredibly loyal and dedicated team… stepping up when they could, caring for each other and securing those who had to self-isolate [and] staying home might do it.

But even so, the last month of 2021 was lucrative for some local operators.

“For many companies [December] broke records even from pre-pandemic months,” Chan said. “It reflects a lot of the information we are hearing – there is pent-up demand and we have had idyllic conditions. Let’s not forget that the weather was on our side during the holidays, although a lot of snow had to be cleared daily.

Whistler’s business community “did the best they could with what we had, and my personal experience was that village guests were very patient and kind,” she added.

The community’s willingness to embrace pandemic health and safety protocols has helped sustain Whistler’s economy and visitor experience, said Barrett Fisher, CEO of Tourism Whistler.

“Kudos to the companies that have really invested in making sure these protocols are in place – that’s definitely positive,” she said. “I think we all know that this variant moved quickly, is easily transmissible and we still live among it.

“It had an impact on some of our local employees, and we saw some companies struggling to make sure we could keep our service levels where we wanted them to be, so we saw a lot of people working morning, noon and evening to provide a positive customer experience.

Good news, Fisher added, is that the resort has seen an increase in its workforce this winter, compared to the summer of 2021.

“It was a difficult and tumultuous time, but I think our community really stood up to do their best,” she said.

Visitation in December is approaching normal levels, says Tourism Whistler

In case record revenues aren’t proof enough, statistics from Tourism Whistler show December 2021 has been one of Whistler’s busiest months since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

Occupancy for the month came in at 64%, Fisher said, significantly higher than the 27% occupancy Whistler saw in the same month in 2020.

“Given that we’re still going through the pandemic, we certainly had a pretty solid December,” Fisher said. A typical December pre-pandemic would see monthly occupancy rates close to 70%, she explained. Room occupancy per night during the week from Christmas to New Year in 2021, however, was down by around 25% compared to a typical year.

“Due to the really incredible snow conditions we had in November and December, we saw real strength ahead of the holiday season,” Fisher said.

Regional skiers made up the lion’s share of visitors to Whistler during the holidays, with smaller numbers coming from other provinces, the western United States and the United Kingdom.

Although last month’s Omicron push caused cancellations in January and February, Fisher said March is shaping up to be strong in terms of bookings.

S(no)w good for business

While the cycle of storms that blanketed Whistler in a blanket of bottomless light and fluffy powder over the holiday season may have boosted the spirits of visitors and the local economy, the snow hasn’t let up. proved equally profitable for everyone.

Joan Novak, owner of JoNo Hair in Function Junction, said she has seen less cash flow into her business in the past six weeks than before the pandemic.

“We’ve been steady, but nowhere near as busy as we were before the pandemic. There are no big company parties anymore and that definitely makes a difference to people’s hair maintenance schedules,” she said in an email.

While she thanked the snow removal staff for the tireless work in the harsh conditions, Novak also attributed her reduced revenue to a high volume of last-minute cancellations caused by major highway shutdowns and the coronavirus outbreak. ‘Omicron of Whistler. “This has caused a major disruption to our day bookings,” she said. “Customers did not show up. Most salons have started implementing no-show fees because these are revenues we can never recover and expenses we still have to pay as a business.

To help alleviate the problems caused by the heavy traffic on the Sea to Sky, Novak proposed a strategy similar to that used during the 2010 Olympics, where visitors would park in the Callaghan Valley and take a shuttle, or a “passenger gondola” in Whistler, plus the creation of a countercurrent route.

Trains and the expansion of the Function-to-Whistler-Village freeway could also be considered long-term solutions, she added.

“The suggestion that everyone just get on the bus doesn’t help, as we still have the problem of high volume associated with ill-equipped city traffic and no counterflow/fast lane bus lane. Buses are always stuck in traffic anyway, so this solution is not appropriate,” Novak said.

“I would like to know the cost of lost business to the local economy for each minute the highway is closed [due to an accident or backed up due to weather or traffic].”

Whistler Transit launches recruitment drive to address driver shortage

Employees who were healthy and able to work were, in some cases, hampered in their ability to get to work on time due to public transportation issues, and not just snowy roads.

Bus riders have received a series of service disruption notices over the past few weeks due to the labor shortages BC Transit is currently facing in many parts of the province, including Whistler .

Lack of drivers has resulted in potential wait times of up to 50 minutes or more on most routes over the holidays, as well as the suspension of additional weekend service on routes 4, 5 and 20X until further notice, BC Transit announced last week.

“When service is further impacted due to driver illness, BC Transit and Whistler Transit work hard to ensure customers are impacted as little as possible and alerts are posted immediately on the BC Transit website. once trip cancellations are confirmed,” BC Transit said in an emailed statement. The organization thanked customers for their patience and encouraged transit riders to regularly check for alerts, sign up for route-specific email notifications and use NextRide to track progress. of their buses in real time.

In response to the shortage, BC Transit and its operating company, Whistler Transit, also launched a driver recruitment campaign “looking for people with strong customer service skills who enjoy interacting with the public and support their community,” the statement continued.

BC Transit said about 10 additional drivers are currently needed to meet existing schedule requirements.

“This is a short-term challenge, and BC Transit is confident that moving to the spring schedule in April and hiring additional drivers will resolve this issue,” the company said.

Whistler Transit offers a three-week paid training program where new drivers will learn to operate all buses in the company’s fleet. No previous transit experience is required, but new drivers must have a BC Class 2 license with air brake endorsement.

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