Thanks to a joint-government initiative between Canada and China, this year could provide an opportunity for growth in one of Tourism Whistler's smaller markets.
Together the two nations have officially named 2018 the Canada-China Year of Tourism (CCYT) with the goal of creating opportunities for increased travel between the countries in the coming year. More visitors from China would be ideal for Tourism Whistler, as despite its size, the nation is not a huge supplier of tourists to the area.
"We do sales and marketing attention in China year-round," said Shawna Lang, director of market development. "We're focused on finding the right customer whose going to come and enjoy the product we have today, and looking for those opportunities to help grow our long-stay visitors. It's really not dissimilar to any of our other strategies in our long-haul markets, but what's interesting about this, is just the extra attention from the Canadian government with that relationship. So yes, we're looking forward to what opportunities might be presented to us that can help with our strategy."
The initiative is an effort to showcase all this country has to offer travellers, and help the federal Crown corporation in charge of growing tourism, Destination Canada, hit its goal of doubling Chinese tourism by 2021.
Across Canada, China is the third largest source of tourism, with 610,100 Chinese tourists visiting and spending $1.5 billion in 2016. Locally, however, the influence of the Chinese market is certainly smaller with Tourism Whistler (TW) measuring its visits using overnight stays. Tourism Whistler does see spikes, particularly around holidays like Chinese New Year. But it would like to attract more consistent numbers year-round.
"China is currently a small year-round market, one that we are focused on and one that shows long-term growth potential like many of our international markets," said Lang. "We strive to drive overnight stays from China, those that will stay in hotels, rent equipment, ski the mountains and enjoy our non-ski activities, shop in our many retail stores and dine in our restaurants."
Right now, there are a number of challenges to drawing more Chinese crowds for a long-term stay, like a lack of Mandarin and Cantonese options in the area.
"Lots of destinations in the world that have Chinese signage and Mandarin speakers, which we don't have in the same volume here as there would be potentially in other B.C. areas or across Canada," explained Lang.
"But the visitors we're having come here aren't necessarily looking for that. They're looking to experience what we already have here to offer. Typically, language is less of an issue. The new market, that could be more of a challenge, so we'll have to keep interested in what the customers are looking for."
Whistler does receive some business from tourists who are visiting family and friends in areas like Vancouver. Oftentimes, they'll make a day trip up to Whistler, but tourism organizations are unable to fully capture that in its data. However, it's still a focus of marketing campaigns, as tourism officials work with Mandarin-speaking media in the Lower Mainland to try to get the message out to a different segment.
Though the Year of Tourism is already underway, Tourism Whistler doesn't know of any specific programs or examples put in place of how the CCYT will benefit them just yet.
Any tourism provider or business operator is free to use the CCYT logo. Lang said Tourism Whistler will look for opportunities to use that, as official symbols are very important in the Chinese market. However, they don't do a lot of direct-to-consumer marketing, so it may appear mostly in social media campaigns.
"Hopefully by having the official government designation behind this we'll see some new opportunities," said Lang.
If this can help growth in 2018, it will continue a strong trend of growth for Tourism Whistler. This October was their second-strongest ever, seeing an increase in weekend occupancy over 2016.