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No worries yet as dollar reaches par

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Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler are watching closely to see what impact, if any, parity between the U.S. dollar and Canadian dollar might have on tourism this winter.

The Loonie reached parity with the U.S. greenback last week for the first time since 1976. The Canadian dollar has now increased more than 16 per cent, relative to the American dollar, in the past year.

When combined with higher gasoline prices, many in the Canadian tourism industry are wondering if Americans will continue to visit, and whether Canadians will choose to vacation south of the border.

Jodi Westbury, research manager for Tourism Whistler, says the next few months will be telling.

“From an advanced booking perspective, our longest haul visitors generally book earliest and from what we’ve seen in terms of bookings and our pacing for this winter we’re already stronger than last year and the year prior,” she said. “So we’re feeling very optimistic about our longest haul travelers.

“The next group that will start to book is medium haul travelers, which includes the long-haul U.S. market. They generally book in October and November, which is when we’ll get a sense of how things are developing. We’ll be monitoring that period very carefully.”

Having a good snow year in 2006-07 is helping, as are efforts to promote value within the resort. According to Westbury, Tourism Whistler’s decision to concentrate on a few key regions within the U.S. is already having an impact.

“In terms of where we are with the U.S. market to date we were down a little bit over last year for the early part of the summer, but when you look at August we were actually up,” she said. “September is also shaping up pretty well, as is October, so we can be optimistic that if there is a shortfall it will be minimal and we’ll be right on track with last year.

“What we have been saying, and will continue to say, is that we need to make sure that as a community the value equation stacks up. That means having a world class product, reasonable prices, and a high level of service and focus on our guest experience.”

If the dollar and other factors do have an impact, Tourism Whistler and its members will respond, said Westbury.

“I can’t say at this point what we might or might not do, just that we will continue to monitor the situation and look for opportunities,” she said.

As cushioning, Westbury points out that the Canadian dollar is actually still a bargain for travelers from the U.K., Europe and Australia, all of which are growth markets for Whistler.

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