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December room nights drop 5% in 2017

Holiday season 2017 still goes down as second busiest on record

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Following a record-breaking December 2016, room nights declined five per cent in December 2017 — but it was still good enough for the second best December on record.

"Over the holiday period we were still at 89-per-cent average occupancy, so still a positive result which I'm sure trickles into a number of businesses in town," said Meredith Kunza, Tourism Whistler's (TW) senior manager of research and product development.

The decline this year can be partly attributed to shifting holidays (Christmas and New Year moving ahead in the calendar by one week, with more holiday dates falling in January), below average snowfall, and less group business (down five per cent this year).

On the other hand, advance bookings (86 per cent of December room nights were booked before Nov. 15) and strong performance from some key markets (like the U.S., which was up five per cent this year) helped to bolster the month against some of the negative factors.

After back-to-back record summer and winter seasons, Whistler is now starting to see visitor volumes balance out somewhat, which TW sees as a positive.

"Seeing those peaks smooth out will help to balance visitation throughout the year. It's about putting strategies into place to attract guests during midweek and non-peak periods," Kunza said.

Those strategies include offering attractive pricing packages and improving the guest experience in off-peak times.

Room-night results are determined through performance data shared with TW by Whistler's accommodation providers, which is then aggregated into a report each month.

"It was a phenomenal holiday... our net promoter scores, which is what we measure by, were fantastic," said Saad Hasan, chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler (HAW).

"All in all I think from the HAW perspective every hotel would say that we had a very successful holiday season, for sure."

Like TW, Hasan attributed the success in part to an increase in advance bookings this year.

"Over the years, people have come to realize that if you want to come and stay in Whistler, do not call on Dec. 25 to make a booking for New Year's Eve, call on Nov. 14," he said. "Not only do you get great discounted hotel rates, but we've connected with Air Canada and a few of the airlines (on early-booking offers)."

And with all the snow falling on Whistler in recent weeks, shorter-notice bookings are beginning to pick up as well.

"February, for instance, is very busy," Hasan said, adding that there are still spaces available for visitors looking to book.

"We do not fill up 100 per cent with early-booking offers, so certainly you can still get accommodation and get good rates," he said. "But if you were to plan for next year, I would say make the best use of the early-booking offers. You get availability and you get good rates."

From a local business perspective, Whistler Chamber members reported a strong holiday season, albeit one that was slightly quieter than last year, said board chair Theresa Walterhouse in an emailed statement.

"Looking forward to the rest of the winter, Tourism Whistler's forecasts show February looking in-line with last year and March/April pacing ahead of last year," Walterhouse wrote.

"We know some members are facing significant staff shortages. Our advocacy committee would like to see good data inform solutions, so we are currently making plans to survey members on business levels and the impacts from challenges with housing and labour."

Whistler Blackcomb and Vail Resorts don't share hard numbers around skier visits or pass sales, but a spokesperson said the company had two of its busiest days of the season so far over the holidays, and is pleased overall with the business the holidays delivered.

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