Resort Associations, a BC Grown Solution

As Resort Communities around British Columbia gain traction, Organizations trying to balance the needs of business owners, retail and residential owners are gaining in profile.

Resort Associations were designed to bring all stakeholders to the table for a common cause: to encourage the development, maintenance and operation of a mountain resort area. They are governed for the most part under the Mountain Resort Association Act, and collect fees from members to help pay for common marketing and advertising.

The first such Association was formed at Whistler in 1979 and is known as Tourism Whistler.

The non-profit, member-based marketing and sales organization was formed at the behest of the Provincial Government at the same time the Provincial Development Plan called for Whistler to build a tourist resort village.

The Whistler Resort Association was formed to market and promote Whistler using monies garnered from members.

Although there are several Resort Associations around B.C. now, most are modeled after Whistler in some fashion, says Christopher Nicolson, president of Tourism Sun Peaks (Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Association).

Founded in 1996, Tourism Sun Peaks is a non-profit, member-based organization with 1,100 members representing accommodation, attractions, restaurants retail and homeowners. Running the Resort Association was one of Nicolson’s first roles at Sun Peaks, says the former Courtenay resident.

There are positives and negatives to operating a Resort Association, says Nicolson, because they represent diverse interests of their members. “It is a challenge to try and address individual ideas,” he says. “The power of a Resort Association is if you can corral all those diverse interests and point them in one direction.”

In the winter, the interests of the “lift company”, how he refers to the Resort, and accommodation sectors are aligned because they both are successful at getting people up the mountain. Those interests diverge in the off-season, which makes summer more difficult to market.

“As a Destination Marketing Association our primary mandate is trying to drive tourism traffic to the destination, whereas that of the homeowner may be to drive services to the village.”
“Strategic planning is critical,” he says. “We work from a strategic plan and an annual plan. We have a Board of Directors and a Marketing Committee” and they are in constant communication with each other in regards to priorities.

Karen Bonell, who was hired in 1998 as Marketing Director at Mount Washington, looked to Sun Peaks’ model when she was tasked with putting Tourism Mount Washington together.

“It was on the books as an idea even before I started,” said Bonell, who left Mount Washington in 2009 and now runs her own marketing consulting business.

“It was right around the time Deer and Bear Lodge were in the process of construction that it really started to be discussed.

They were talking about the whole village core idea with Deer and Bear Lodge and it was written into the purchase contracts that when there was a Resort Association (membership) would be required,” she said.

That was one of the unique challenges Bonell faced when, around 2000, plans for a Resort Association at Mount Washington became more formalized.

There was no association at the time Deer and Bear Lodges were built, so owners paid little attention to the fine print.

“Because I was new and wanted to learn the ropes, we did a lot of research. Sun Peaks was a model we looked at but we looked at others too,” she said.

“The whole idea behind it was to enhance the marketing effort the Resort could do. Because the Resort really is looking after the operation, the facility for outdoor adventure.

“We wanted to look at something that would complement what the Resort could accomplish but look at it from a destination perspective so we could attract more visitors off-season."

Bonell was all set to roll out Tourism Mount Washington in 2004, but then the weather didn’t cooperate and the Resort didn’t open that year. The plan was shelved for a couple of seasons, until everyone could recover.

Membership aside from Deer and Bear Lodges and Beaufort Heights was voluntary at first.

When the freehold changeover was offered to owners a few years ago, one of the stipulations was that the owners must become a member of Tourism Mount Washington, which has helped boost membership.

Although no longer involved with the Resort except as a customer and Chair of the Vancouver Island Mountain Sport Society, Bonell said she still feels the Resort Association was the right direction to go. “I think it’s really important to have Resort Associations because Resorts are so unique as a product.”