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Holiday Experience numbers exceed expectations

Watermark ready to invest in more equipment with a long-term commitment

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Happy kids make for happy parents, and one of the happiest places in Whistler for 15 days during the Christmas break was the Whistler Holiday Experience.

Held at the Whistler Conference Centre, there was a room filled with bouncy castles and slides, a miniature golf course, a games room with air hockey, pool, ping-pong and hockey nets, video games and more. There were also special events, like the arrival of Santa Claus, and arts and crafts events co-hosted by the Whistler Arts Council.

The event ran from Dec. 17 to Jan. 2, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was closed on Christmas Day and on New Year's Eve day as the space was readied for First Night celebrations and the teen-only MuchMusic Video Dance Party.

Watermark Communications once again produced the event and President Sue Eckersley said it was likely the busiest yet. This is the first year that they've officially counted people at the door, but overall she says there were more people.

"We only counted people coming through the front doors... but in the 15 days we were open there were just over 15,000 people," she said. "On a non-busy day it was around 800 people, and on busy days we got up to 1,500.

"The word is out among tourists and locals."

The Whistler Holiday Experience was created five years ago after a particularly wet holiday, giving people with children a dry place to go. The next year the Resort Municipality of Whistler collaborated with Tourism Whistler to fund and staff the event, hiring Watermark Communications to run the activities as well as the First Night celebrations.

Eckersley said all of the feedback was positive. The two complaints they did receive were about one kid who somehow managed to turn all the lights off for about three seconds, and the other was that the drinking water was too cold.

Most visitors and locals appreciated having a place where their kids could run around and have fun.

"I really believe it's a good use of the hotel tax," said Eckersley. "At least 50 per cent of the people there were tourists. In the mornings we'd see a lot of locals, but in the afternoon after the mountain closed it would be all tourists. There were a lot of languages spoken, and a lot of people from the States. People were saying; 'hey, this is an important reason why we come to Whistler.' One parent from Texas told me they made sure this was going on before they booked their holiday vacation."

That said, Eckersley believes it's important to review the event every year to ensure that the resort is getting value. Going forward, she says she has spoken to several sponsors that are interested in helping to the support the event. There could have been a sponsor for this year if there wasn't a conflict with an Olympic sponsor. However, she said, even with a partner the event will likely require some funding from the hotel tax.

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