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Paying for direct flights not an option for Whistler: Brownlie

As U.S. resorts increase airline access following poor snow year, WB keeps eye on Pemberton airport



After a poor 2011-2012 season for snowfall, American ski resorts have been bulking up their efforts to increase visitor numbers by raising money to pay for direct flights to nearby airports.

Using local sales taxes or other funding sources, resorts such as Sun Valley, Jackson Hole and Mammoth have spent the summer booking winter flights from major U.S. cities, making access easier in the attempt to grow new tourism business.

As reported in

Pique last issue, 77 per cent of airline passengers currently taking advantage of the American resort offers are either second-home owners or tourists. But the sales tax is also being pushed as a way to help sell more real estate and attract business people who need frequent and easier access to the outside world.

Sun Valley and nearby towns in Idaho may approve a one per cent sales tax to raise funds to pay for direct flights from large centres like San Francisco. The tax would raise $2 million and run for a five-year trial period.

A single daily direct flight from San Francisco to Sun Valley could begin in 2013, with other new major markets to follow. The San Francisco flight would bring in 20,000 visitors per year, producing an estimated $34 million stimulus to the local economy.

Total airplane seats sold for flights to Sun Valley in 2011-2012, including direct flights from Seattle and Los Angeles, already total 53,000.

Steamboat, Telluride and Crested Butte in Colorado, and Jackson in Wyoming, also currently offer revenue guarantees to airlines.

Last season, for example, Steamboat had revenue guarantees of $3.57 million, and the 2012-13 season is expected to go above $4 million following a 0.25 per cent boost to the resort's sales tax. Despite this, airplane seat numbers are expected to drop by 11 per cent in the coming season due to poor snowfall levels last winter, according to Steamboat Today.

Whistler Blackcomb's president and chief operating officer, Dave Brownlie, said in an interview that this is not an option for Whistler at this time.

"When you look at what happens in some of those U.S. resorts, they are generally local airports. To get the flights in, they need to provide the guarantee (of financial support)," he said.

"If we had a local airport, whether it was in Whistler or Pemberton, we'd certainly be in that game, but when you have an international airport such as YVR, to guarantee flights from other places actually makes it very complicated. It's something we've chosen not to do."

Brownlie said the many international flights to Vancouver International Airport from around the world means that Whistler could not be seen as supporting one airline or location at the expense of another.