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Feature - After a difficult year, Tourism Whistler planning for better days

But long-term strategy in the works to keep the resort on top

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The most recent statistics from Tourism Whistler show that overnight stays in the resort were down 18 per cent last month, and eight per cent for the season.

The biggest drop came from long-haul east coast U.S. and Canadian markets, which is hardly a surprise considering global events.

The numbers, while gloomy, are not surprising.

"Unfortunately we anticipated that we would see declines based on the fall out from the (U.S.-Iraq) war, fall out from SARS, the soft economy, and a decrease in air capacity," said Barrett Fisher, vice-president marketing strategy and business development for Tourism Whistler.

"Overall it was a challenging year and we did see decreases.

"We knew back in December and January that we had major challenges ahead and we certainly focused our marketing dollars in markets where we thought we would see the greatest returns and we feel that our analysis was accurate.

"But the challenges were greater than we were able to thwart altogether."

Despite the numbers Fisher believes there have been some bright spots.

Easter was strong thanks to the World Ski and Snowboard Festival and tourist trade from Mexico.

In fact the numbers from Mexico were up 3.5 per cent over the previous year.

Another success is the numbers out of Australia. Visitors were up almost 50 per cent this year.

But, added Fisher, the numbers have to be put in context as the increase from Australia only brought the numbers back to where they were before the terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001.

Japan was also up 28 per cent. But again that market has been in decline for the last several years so the resort was really only regaining some of the previous numbers.

The UK market was up .6 per cent for the season.

"That is a very large market so that is an incredibly good result," said Fisher.

An interesting increase came from the Hawaiian market, which saw a 30 per cent rise.

Aloha state visitors are looking for a temperate ski resort to visit and Tourism Whistler has been capitalizing on this, said Fisher. The island airlines Aloha Air carried information about Whistler in its recent newsletter and the resort has been doing some marketing in the islands.

Infrequent but huge dumps of snow also impacted the resort although skier visits still broke the 2-million benchmark, said Christopher Nicolson of Whistler Blackcomb.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the resort will be rebounding from a difficult year anytime soon.

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