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Feature - Tourism Marketing

Fast work and target marketing saved the resort from disaster post 9/11



When two planes flew into the World Trade towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 the tourism industry could be heard gasping around the world.

Obviously horrified by the human toll, people around the world held their breath to see what the fall-out would be.

But tour operators, destination resorts, and business owners reliant on tourism were particularly worried as they scrambled to understand how it would impact them.

For Whistler that meant contemplating a horrific winter season with US travellers staying out of the air and close to home, and customers from jumpy overseas markets striking any North American destination off their list of places to visit.

The only strategy left to Tourism Whistler and other winter resorts was to fight as hard as they could to save the season. And they had to go it alone for the most part, as most other Canadian resorts focus on the summer business and didn’t need to react swiftly.

Everyone went into high gear. Tourism Whistler organized conference calls with all its counterparts around the world.

The resort braced for a potential fall off of 20 per cent in business.

"When we went into Sept, 11 our target for the season was to be down anywhere between six and 15 per cent," said Barrett Fisher, vice president marketing strategy and business development for Tourism Whistler.

"But we knew it might be down to 20 per cent. Those were very realistic targets. And when we compared to our competitors, like Vancouver and other destinations, they had similar targets that in fact materialized."

After intense research into the markets it was decided to abandon, for the most part, any US market that relied on airplanes to get people here. The big exception was California, which was still targeted for advertising.

The focus switched to the rubber-tire market, Canada, and the overseas markets of Mexico, Australia, and the UK.

Many would argue that what the resort reaped in reward for its quick action was an astounding success.

According to Tourism Whistler, last winter season’s business fell only two per cent from the previous year.

"It’s totally amazing and it far surpassed our expectations," said Fisher.

In fact many in the resort were predicting that type of drop off before Sept. 11, as Whistler’s double digit growth over the last decade slowed.

For this year marketing will continue to be focused on those same areas, as it is expected that many of the same trends will continue. There is also the continued soft US economy, on-going unrest in the Middle East and the fear of flying to consider.