IT WOULD appear that Squamish has done a great job of getting itself noticed, as the Jim Pattison Group is in negotiations to build their newest Great Wolf Lodge in our beautiful town. Consisting of themed rooms and a large waterslide park, the resort could bring as many as 670 jobs (30 per cent of them full-time, according to a report), and more than $10 million per year in payroll to our small town. The resort will need to use water, lots of it, but it’s run through a recycling system, so after an initial big draw it shouldn’t need much more than any other hotel.
This sounds like it should be a huge plus for all of us: A new corporate tax-payer, hundreds of citizens with decent-paying jobs adding to our tax base, yet another draw for tourists, and a long-dreamed-of waterpark for our kids to play in. But here’s where if this were the narration at the beginning of a show on Nickelodeon you would now hear the sound of needle scratching across a record, because, sorry kids, unless your parents are willing to rent a very expensive room, you won’t be playing in the waterpark.
You see, Great Wolf Lodge Resorts don’t allow day passes, or even season’s passes; Great Wolf Lodge is strictly ‘stay to play’.
This sticks in the craw of most of the people I’ve talked to about this. It strikes some as a sign that not only are Squamish’s real estate and rental prices making this town seem more like an exclusive off-shoot of West Vancouver, but now the amenities will no longer be available for use to the people who call this place home, and who provide the labour force for the resort.
A guests-only destination is at odds with the spirit of Squamish, the welcoming Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada. The activities that have drawn people here, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, camping, rafting, kiteboarding and skiing among them, are all open to anyone who care to participate. Local tourist destinations like the Sea to Sky Gondola and Whistler’s ski hills don’t have any requirement that people book a room to use the amenities.
Yes, the Jim Pattison Group has used this business model across North America for many years, but just because something has always been done this way doesn’t mean that it should continue to be done this way. For a different model of how to keep locals feeling happy and welcome, look across the water a short way to Tigh Na Mara Resort and Spa in Parksville. They’ve got a lovely facility, and locals are welcome to use it as long as they pay the spa fee. Tigh Na Mara benefits from including locals in their customer base, and doesn’t have to limit themselves to just the number of people they can accommodate in their rooms.
Great Wolf Lodges in other towns include fun amenities like spas, arcades, ropes courses, and the waterpark. For our children to be denied access unless we pay to stay in a town where we live seems like a business model that we don’t want to encourage. Local people can be a valuable asset to this business providing customers during times when tourists are scarce and bringing in family members from out of town.
Rather than exclude locals from the facility, GWL should offer locals special rates during the off-season, and provide an incentive program offering free stays if they bring in a certain number of visitors. Working with our community, making itself a valuable part of it, will work out far better in the long run for Great Wolf Lodge than setting itself apart. In Squamish, we all play together.