British Columbia

Whistler tourism soars, but crackdown on foreign labour hurts business

It's been the best summer in years for tourism but the worst for staffing in the resort town.

Resort has a shortage of employees due to a lack of foreign workers

Whistler's Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is encouraging people to move to the resort town to work. (CBC)

It's been the best summer in years for tourism in Whistler, but the worst in terms of staffing as the resort town struggles with a crackdown on foreign workers.

It's so bad that some businesses like Avalanche Pizza have had to close.

The problem started about eight months ago, said Rick Hale, the owner of two Avalanche Pizza restaurants. He closed one of his restaurants a few weeks ago because of the labour shortage.

Help wanted

"We're over-working our existing employees to no end," Hale said. "They can't handle it any more and, as an employer, I just don't see any time off."

Hale's not alone.

Help wanted signs are all over the resort town, which has a population of about 9,800 and hosts about 2 million visitors annually.

Employers said worker shortages are due to restrictions to Canada's temporary foreign worker program, which laid out plans to limit foreign workers last year.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the chamber of commerce is trying to get some relief through the program.

"It's a problem of success," Wilhelm-Morden said. "We've had our busiest summer on record."


The community offers a lot of support for staff through an affordable housing program and community services but they just need to attract more employees, she said. The shortage is compounded by the fact that a lot of students who work in the town will be leaving at the end of August.

"I understand there is a problem with labour for tourism and hospitality across the country, which is supposed to last until 2020," she said. "This problem isn't going to go away soon."

Hale, who has been in business for 20 years, said he's never seen a shortage like this.

"The solution is bringing back our foreign labour market," Hale said. "We were running well with it. We enjoyed the foreign market coming in and assisting us. It brought character to our businesses and it brought lots of enjoyment to our town."

Whistler can't get enough employees to keep up with tourism demands. (CBC)

With files from Belle Puri and Andrew Chang


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