Louise Walker had a busy first week on the job as the Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s new executive director. Between attending the Chamber-hosted Whistler Excellence Awards and helping to launch this year’s revamped Spirit Pass and Whistler Experience program, on top of all the other responsibilities that come with taking over the resort’s largest business network, she’s barely had a moment to catch her breath.
“I’ve got a lot of files to catch up on,” she quipped in an interview Friday, Oct. 21, the morning after the Excellence Awards.
But if there’s a person well suited to take the reins, it’s Walker. A longtime Tourism Whistler staffer, she spent years working her way up the ranks of the destination marketing organization, eventually serving as its VP of marketing and strategic planning, before joining the Squamish Chamber of Commerce in 2016 as its newest executive director. For a resort town that is still rebounding from the pandemic, Walker’s experience on both the tourism side and business side of the Sea to Sky should serve her and the Chamber well.
“I think having the background in both is an advantage, definitely,” she said. “I certainly come in with a bit more insights into some things, but I know for sure that things have changed over the last six years. These first few weeks, I’m reaching out to old contacts and meeting new people and just listening and learning and understanding the dynamic and the environment that Whistler is in right now.”
That environment is a challenging one at the moment. COVID-19 only exacerbated Whistler’s longstanding staffing shortage, and between housing and unaffordability, there’s no question the resort’s reputation has taken a hit in the eyes of the young, foreign workers considering whether or not to spend a season or more here. Add to that the financial squeeze local businesses are already feeling—everything from rising inflation to supply-chain disruptions and Whistler’s sky-high commercial real estate—and it’s clear the Chamber has its work cut out for it in the coming years.
The continued challenges help to explain the new direction the Chamber has taken in recent years, as the organization looks to play a more active role in both employee recruitment and retention, and business advocacy.
On the former, the Chamber is putting the finishing touches on its new Whistler Community Talent Plan, a kind of go-to guide to assist employers across a range of areas, with the ultimate goal of retaining staff for longer and decreasing turnover.
On the latter, the Chamber is hoping to position itself as not just a voice for its members on the issues that relate directly to business, but to secondary contributors as well, like housing, transit and affordability.
“There’s a really good opportunity for the Chamber to represent its 700 members so that we can help with the data piece, so we can really demonstrate the impact and create really thorough, evidence-based actions and recommendations,” said Walker.
The Chamber is also set to launch its Whistler Experience Program ahead of the busy winter season, a customer service training program that comes with a number of perks for participants, including the Whistler Blackcomb (WB) Spirit Pass and a discounted transit pass.
The only pass product available for purchase throughout the winter 2022-23 season, the Spirit Pass offers the same perks as WB’s Unlimited Pass, including access to half-off lift tickets at other Vail Resorts ski areas.
On top of the Spirit Pass, program participants are eligible for exclusive discounts such as a Spirit Transit Pass, membership deals at the Meadow Park Sports Centre, and special pricing at Ski Callaghan and Canadian Wilderness Adventures.
“Retention and employee engagement are important components of the Whistler Talent Plan,” said Diana Chan, chair of the Chamber board, in a release. “The Chamber continues to innovate new benefits, and the WB and Transit Spirit Pass are staples that employers rely on every year.”
New this year, the Chamber has made efforts to streamline the Whistler Experience registration process for both employers and staff. All training courses will be available online and on-demand year-round, giving participants the chance to complete the training on their own time.
“The combination of access to the WB Spirit Pass, professional development courses and a suite of local discounts and deals around town serves to elevate any business or organization’s retention package,” Chan said.
Learn more and register at go.whistlerchamber.com/spirit.