Tourists becoming full-time residents & have sustained Whistler & Kelowna

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

LIFESTYLE I They are changing the makeup of resort towns, study says

Michael Kane

Tourists who come to play and then go away have sustained B.C. towns like Whistler, Kelowna and Qualicum Beach for decades.

Now some tourists are becoming year-round residents and changing the makeup of resort communities, according to preliminary findings of a two-year study by researchers at Simon Fraser University.

It’s an “amenity-driven tourist migration” that’s just begun but will spread if Canada follows the trail blazed by the money-drenched ski resort of Vail, Colo., said Peter Williams, director of SFU’s centre for tourism policy and research.

It’s not only early retirees but also a lifestyle choice for another group of middle-agers who can work anywhere thanks to technology.

That means greater housing demand and higher prices. It also spawns upscale retail services that may be beyond the reach of average wage earners while straining services like roads, health care and garbage removal.

In some cases, professionals such as teachers and accountants can no longer afford to live in the communities where they work.

“I’ve heard it said that the filthy rich are pushing out the wealthy,” Williams said in an interview Friday.

“It’s a two-sided coin because the migration also provides work for locals. We’re finding that the people who come are more apt to spend money locally than the locals because they are trying to become locals.

“It’s a paradox because on the one side you have them coming in and creating jobs and on the other side you have them displacing people.”

In Whistler, town councillor Tim Wake said he has noticed the trend of tourists becoming year-round residents. The resort’s housing shortage is exacerbated by large numbers of second-home owners as well as young people coming for a year or two and then deciding to stay.

In Kelowna, the high-tech industry is attracting young migrants from places like California, Asia and Ontario, but the Alberta oil executives driving the area’s recreational property boom aren’t likely to become year-round residents until they retire, said Elton Ash, regional executive vice-president for Re/Max Western Canada.

“There is some telecommuting but it is not a huge segment of the market,” Ash said. “If you are in the petrochemical business, it doesn’t work until you retire.”

Williams and his researchers are six months into their study which seeks first to identify the migrants and then figure out how they engage in the community and what that does to the locals.

The ritzy Colorado communities of Steamboat Springs and Vail are included because they have incubated trends like the so-called “trustafarians” who live on trust funds provided by their baby boomer parents and seek safe and enjoyable places to raise their own children.

There is also the phenomenon of affluent middle-agers “playing at work” by establishing retail businesses like art galleries and bistros that allow them to become part of the community while making the community more upscale, said Ottawa-born Williams who describes himself as “the first baby boomer” because he turned 60 in July.

“You get a different retail mix with more on the arts, cultural and health care/wellness side of things. Even the hardware stores begin to change while some of the traditional businesses fall off. If there was a diner it becomes a period art deco diner or has some kind of theme.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


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