The American Thanksgiving weekend and official opening of Whistler and Blackcomb for the season produced numbers that outpaced previous years, despite the higher Canadian dollar, continued high gas prices, lineups at the border and other factors.
The exact numbers won’t be known for at least a few weeks, but bookings and last-minute arrivals for the long weekend exceeded figures for the same weekend the last two years.
“Based on the pace of bookings leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, we expect bookings will be ahead of the same period last year and 2005 as well,” said Breton Murphy, manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler. “Saturday and Sunday looked particularly strong, and many of our members said the village was abuzz for the entire weekend.”
Tourism Whistler has been watching numbers carefully since the Canadian dollar reached par with the U.S. in September, and climbed to as high as $1.10 before sinking back to near parity last week. Record gas prices were also a concern, with the price of oil nearing $100 a barrel in early November.
To address these issues, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb have been stressing value to visitors, offering substantial discount packages for advance bookings. Those packages expired in mid-November, but not before bookings for the winter holidays were tracking about three per cent ahead of last year.
The Christmas holidays look particularly busy.
“Our current estimate for Thanksgiving weekend was a room occupancy of 60 per cent, which is quite good, and the pace for the holidays is looking even stronger,” said Murphy. “From Dec. 28 to Jan. 1 we’re on pace to exceed 90 per cent at the rate we’ve been going. I can’t say what’s typical, but if I look at numbers from last year and the year before, we’re well ahead.”
According to Murphy, last year’s huge snowfalls have helped with the booking, especially for long haul guests. As for the regional market, which includes Washington, Murphy says most visitors are return customers.
“That’s a market that is well-versed in the buying power of their dollar, because they’ve been to Whistler before — about 75 per cent have been here before,” said Murphy.
“The regional market also makes decisions at the last minute, they’re aware of the weather and snow, and no doubt they also saw the value and services, which influenced their desire to return. Our job is to keep delivering on that through the winter season.”
Several new offers and incentives put forward by Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and resort partners are helping to counter any negative impacts of the dollar or economy. For example, the “book early and save” offers that ended last week had a huge uptake, as has a program that gives visitors a free day on the mountains if they stay until Tuesday.