Six months ago it looked like it could be the holiday season to beat all seasons — one in a millennium — but, although most hotels finally did sell out for the historic New Year’s Eve and Whistler’s First Night event attracted a crowd of over 20,000, the numbers overall are far from record-breaking and, in some cases, do not come close to matching up to the 1998/99 holiday season which in itself was a hard act to follow.
Tourism Whistler statistics were not available at press time and the mountains were not ready to release their visitor numbers but several hotels reported business over the Christmas period and the traditionally solid lead-in to New Year was “significantly” lower than usual. Vacancy rates were hovering around 20 to 30 per cent for some properties all the way up to 60 per cent for others. To fill rooms on New Year’s Eve, minimum night stays were dropped from seven to five and then axed from three to two in some cases. Other properties even accepted bookings for the one night on New Year’s Eve. In many cases rates also softened considerably.
Although occupancy may have been lower for many properties the dip was offset for those that charged premiums over New Year’s leaving operators content with the overall results. “It was Swiss cheese,” said property manager Gord McKeever. “There were holes here and there where normally it would be full but the premiums associated with rates helped compensate.”
All properties, however, are reporting strong booking trends for the remainder of the winter season and expect end-of-season results could still match last year.
The Holiday Inn Sunspree sold out New Year’s Eve but occupancy averaged around 70 per cent for the holiday period, said general manager Anita McGee. “It was substantially below last year but I would rather not be specific.” McGee said, for example, the Holiday Inn sold out in the post Christmas period last year. “I wasn’t on site then but the numbers I have seen are considerably less than last year.”
McGee said about half of the bookings for this New Year’s Eve were made within the last three to four weeks preceding the event. Bookings were accepted up until the day of the 31st. McGee said the Holiday Inn ended up rolling rates back to last season’s prices but she would not say how much rooms went for. “I would rather not go into detail on that because some paid more than others. As with most hotels rates change throughout the year,” she said. “I think people were generally scared off by the millennium issues and a lot of middle and upper level management didn’t want to travel during that period. They would have been the normal clientele.”