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Cancelled conferences cost millions in shoulder season business

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Hotels gearing up, re-focusing efforts for winter season

Whistler is losing millions of dollars in revenues due to unforeseen conference cancellations stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Officials at two of whistler's biggest hotels, the Westin Resort and Spa and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, have confirmed that at least four conferences have cancelled their stays at the hotels this fall. The actual number may be much higher.

"Conferences have to be booked so far in advance that there is no way you can plan for something like this," said Monica Hayes, the Westin's media relations director.

But Hayes said the Westin is now trying to target regional markets and leisure travellers, who, according to Tourism Whistler, spend more than conference delegates – about $309 – on a per day basis.

"We've had to re-focus our efforts," she said, adding that the Westin will be re-visiting its room rates to make staying at the hotel more attractive.

Hayes also said long-term business looks stable.

"We haven't had any cancellations for the holiday periods," she said.

Conferences are Whistler's cornerstone business in the shoulder season, between the busy summer and winter months. The cancellations also affect local restaurants, retail shops, tour operators and golf courses.

Hayes confirmed the cancellation of a 275-person group from Chicago that was scheduled to stay four days at the Westin.

According to Tourism Whistler, conference delegates spend $264 per day during their stay. That would mean the Westin and other resort businesses are missing out on $290,000 through the Chicago group’s cancellation.

Hayes said the logistics of rescheduling a conference of that size are almost impossible.

"There's no way we could quickly re-book it," she told Pique Newsmagazine .

According to Hayes, conference groups at the Westin usually average between 50 and 250 delegates, which means the three other cancelled conferences will cost Whistler thousands – if not millions – of dollars more in lost business.

At the Chateau Whistler, there have been a number of cancelled conferences, although hotel officials would not confirm the exact numbers.

"We've definitely been impacted, just like every other hotel in North America," said Janet Hart, the Chateau's marketing manager.

One of the Chateau's more popular sister hotels in the Canadian Rockies, the 770-room Banff Springs Hotel, has had more than 2,500 cancellations.

The Chateau Lake Louise is also suffering the same number of cancellations.

Sources close to the Chateau, who want to remain nameless, have said there has been at least nine cancelled conferences – ranging in size from 25 to 350 delegates – and that the hotel has lost $1.3 million. Hart would not confirm those numbers.

"Conferences make up the majority of our business in shoulder season," she said. "But it's not appropriate to comment on the exact number. No one really knows."

According to Hart, the Chateau will use the slowdown to prepare for the upcoming winter and is focusing on the regional market as well. The hotel is offering rooms for $99 per night until Dec. 20.

"We're looking forward to December and 2002," she said.

Officials at both hotels said there have been staff layoffs, although none are attributed directly to the terrorist attacks.

Hart said the Whistler hotel business is "going into slow season four weeks early."

According to Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, the entire hotel industry is feeling the effects of cancelled business.

"Americans are typically going to be travelling less and European and Asian travellers probably won't be coming as much," he said. "So we expect business will be down."

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