It looks like this season may herald the return of the destination tourist to Whistler in greater numbers.
Hotels and retailers have both noticed more of them enjoying longer stays.
And many of them are from the U.S. which is helping to quell an undercurrent of concern about how the strong Canadian dollar will affect American travel to Whistler.
“There is definitely more people from the destination side and it appears that there are fewer people from Vancouver,” said Scott Carrall, co-owner of Affinity Sports, Whistler’s largest independent retailer.
The same sentiment was echoed by Dave Demers, who is a part owner and the sole operator of the Sundial Hotel.
“Business is up and it is the international crowd definitely booking longer term stays and that is definitely noticeable,” he said.
Asked what might lie behind this both Demers and Carrall said the strong snow year so far and last year’s great snow have a lot to do with it.
“I think it has to do with the snow,” said Carrall.
“Last year we had a fabulous snow year while other places were not so fortunate and I think it comes back to that. When you have snow you get the business, especially the early snow.”
Carrall also pondered whether Whistler’s strong real estate market and the international marketing that goes along with it are playing a role.
And Demers believes that reasonable flight tickets and direct flights to Vancouver are also playing a role.
His hotel was 100 per cent full from Dec. 27 to Jan 3.
It was the same story over the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
“No mater how you slice and dice it people come to ski… and here we are enjoying the fruits of our labour and in many ways that is thanks to Mother Nature,” said the Chateau’s general manager Michael Kaile.
He too has noticed long-haul travellers returning to Whistler in droves.
“We have a very strong mix of the UK and Europe and long distance travellers which is wonderful, because they are probably tacking on a visit to the rest of the province as well, so that is great,” said Kaile.
“We are really pleased as well to see such strong representation from the United States. Time will tell, of course, but let us be so pleased that we have had a chance to host a really very strong guest contingent from the USA.”
Kaile said he is firmly fixed on having a strong 2008 convention and conference business year too as he knows that visits during these activities bring repeat customers.
Tourism Whistler’s vice president of marketing, Arlene Schieven, said research is not yet available to support the observation that destination visitors are up. But pace reports leading up to the holiday season were definitely ahead.
“From our 120-day pace report the whole Christmas period right from the 24 th of December to Jan. 4 was all showing over 80 per cent occupancy for all days and for the 27 th to the 31 st it was up over 90 per cent,” said Schieven.
“That is up significantly over the past two years. Anecdotally, I do think it has been very busy. We have had some interesting stories come this way about people who have shown up without reservations for the Christmas period and had a tough time, and that includes people from as far away as the UK.”