The jury is still out on what a recent rockslide cost Whistler, closing the highway for four days and the start of the B.C. Day long weekend, but possibly tens of thousands of visitors were turned away.
According to Tourism Whistler the August long weekend is usually one of the busiest of the summer, with occupancy rates between 70 and 80 per cent. Bookings were down slightly this year, said corporate and member communications manager Breton Murphy, but occupancy was expected to pick up as a result of last minute bookings.
“We are seeing the impacts on U.S. visits with the slowdown in the economy and fuel prices, but in the summertime we tend to rely a lot more on regional traffic and the drive market that makes decisions at the last minute,” he said. “They don’t typically make a booking more than a day or two before the weekend, and given that the closure was several days before the weekend it’s hard to estimate what we would have seen.”
On Friday, Tourism Whistler polled several local hotels and found that the cancellation rate was between 20 and 80 per cent for properties. Some visitors did make the trip after the highway reopened on Saturday evening, but those numbers won’t be available until Tourism Whistler completes its research.
Several hotels offered special rates while the highway was closed, as did the Whistler Golf Course.
James Terry, the chief operating officer of the Rocky Mountaineer, said they were forced to cancel train trips for five days while damaged rails were repaired.
“It was probably about 2,000 guests,” he said. “To be honest it hurts, but these are the curves you can have thrown at you and we had to handle them just like everybody in Whistler had to handle them — I’m sure a lot of people were hurt financially by the highway closure, but most people can probably agree that it could have been worse. We’re just glad nobody was injured in the slide.”
Terry praised the Ministry of Transportation and CN Rail for keeping them up to date on the status of the slide, and for getting the rails open two days earlier than expected.
“Not only was their communication extremely good, they really exceeded expectations in getting the tracks open again,” he said. “They came in with a reasonable estimate as to how long it would take to get everything open, and they beat it. It was a lot of hard work, and we were very happy to be able to start running on Monday instead of Wednesday.”