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Businesses trying to entice tourists for Olympic season

Resort partners, individual companies work to combat aversion



Sandy Black at Affinity Rentals is trying to take the Olympic ski season into his own hands.

Recognizing that his business, out of all the different businesses in Whistler, will be one of the most affected by the decline in skier visits next season, Black has sent out an email and mail-out brochure campaign in the past month, letting his partners know that Affinity is open for business during the Games.

Roughly 1,000 brochures have gone out so far with this message:

"Here at Affinity it's business as usual during the Olympics."

It's a substantial investment for a small business. But a necessary one, Black believes, to combat so-called "Olympic aversion" - the perception that Whistler will be too busy, too expensive and under too much construction in the Olympic winter season to make a vacation here worthwhile.

"Any businesses like mine that are driven by skier visits will be affected in a big way," he said of the 2009-2010 season.

The brochure, however, promotes the once in a lifetime experience of coming to Whistler during the Games, among other things. Rental prices have stayed the same for the past three years so there won't be price gauging, and Affinity is offering a flexible rental package for those who want to attend events.

Despite getting the message out, Black predicts a decline in skier visits in the 30 per cent range surounding February 2010, with a 60 per cent decline that month.

That decline comes on the heels of a difficult season 2008-2009 season.

"We already had our experience with aversion this year," said Arlene Schieven, Tourism Whistler's vice president of marketing.

This winter, she said, Whistler was down eight per cent over last year. Skier visits were down 15 per cent.

Tourism Whistler, along with Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is working to get out the message that next season could in fact be one of the best times to be in Whistler.

The mountain will be open for the entire winter season and during the Games 90 per cent of the terrain will be open. And the message is that there are deals to be had.

"We don't want people to dwell on three weeks of Olympic Games and forget about the rest of the season," said Stuart Rempel, WB's senior vice president of sales and marketing.

"Is there going to be aversion? Absolutely. We can't always get our message out to everyone.

"No one can fault us for not trying."

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is also trying to get the message out to its clientele.

In particular, general manager Roger Soane said the hotel is working on a huge promotion to entice the Australian market to Whistler in January, at a time when they usually travel.

"We've put some great deals out there to encourage Australians to come for that period," said Soane.

"I hope that we (will) start to see some bookings."

He admits there will be challenging holes to fill. He pointed to the first week of February as one of those challenges - just before the hotel fills with Olympic-related guests.

Getting the message out about next season's deals is also a strategy for the Pan Pacific.

"We've been marketing very, very hard to our regular customers," said general manager Jim Douglas.

While the messaging remains positive, co-owner Brett Milner of Summit Ski Bike Board, which rents skis and other related gear in the winter, isn't optimistic about business next season.

"We're definitely expecting to be considerably slower next year," he said.

Summit is doing several things to mitigate that. It will be changing up its retail mix, selling things like cold weather gear and baggage for unprepared members of the media and other Olympic visitors. Milner said he won't be hiring the same number of staff and he will not be buying as much product.

Black, too, will be watching his labour costs and adding Olympic merchandise to his product mix to help retail sales.

For a business whose success is directly related to the number of skiers and snowboarders on the mountain, Black isn't just looking at the 09/10 season.

He wonders just how long it will take Whistler to get up to those record-breaking 2.2 million skier visits of a few years ago.