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Interior ski resorts bullish on 2010-2011 season

Skier numbers expected to rise as economy recovers

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Ski resorts in the B.C. interior are expecting a good season, capitalizing on an economy that is slowly recovering as well as the exposure they received last year during the Olympics - some of it due to the Olympic aversion effect that prompted skiers and snowboarders to avoid Whistler before, during and after the Games.

Christopher Nicolson, the president of Tourism Sun Peaks, says resort visitation was up around seven per cent last year for both regional and destination markets. Most of the increase was before and during the Games, with visitor numbers levelling off in March and April.

"I don't know if we did better than we thought, but we benefited from the aversion," he told Pique on Tuesday. "From what I've learned we were probably the lead resort to benefit from that - partly because of our strategy to promote and to be supportive of the Olympics, and certainly because we did present Sun Peaks as an alternative for someone that didn't want to travel to the Lower Mainland."

Nicolson says Sun Peaks is expecting another increase in visitors this yearand anticipates numbers returning to where they were before the financial crisis hit in late 2007.

While visitors continued to ski at Sun Peaks, he said the average spend per visitor was down as guests were more budget-conscious than in the past.

In that sense, he says Whistler led the way when it came to discounting packages and aggressively courting the regional market. His resort followed suit, and came into this season with a variety of packages for every type of visitor and length of stay.

"Looking at the numbers through December and January, February, each month we're projecting growth. Obviously February and March are further away, and like most regional markets the actual market will be dictated by the snow conditions," he said.

"All the talk of La Niña has definitely motivated the marketplace. I can tell you at the ski shows in Vancouver and Seattle every second person that came up to me referenced La Niña."

The result is more early bookings, says Nicolson, as visitors make a leap of faith. "I think you'll see that optimism shared by most resorts," he said.

Nicolson attended the recent Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association conference where he says the experiences of last winter were generally shared by other ski resorts. However, he says the focus was on the future and the coming winter.

In terms of destination markets, Nicolson says Sun Peaks traditionally does well with Australia and New Zealand. However, he imagines European markets will decline as a result of the economy, higher air travel costs and the loss of charter flights into Calgary and Banff.

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