By Vivian Moreau
Shifting tourism trends point to a new traveler market for Whistler, according to recent Statistics Canada visitor numbers.
While U.S. visitor numbers to Canada are declining, travelers from Asia are on the rise, according to a StatCan report released last week.
American numbers were down six per cent in October from September and down 13 per cent from the same month in 2004. And while visitors from Asia were down in total in October from September, quarterly stats show an increase. Between September and October of this year 11,300 visitors from China visited Canada, an increase of 10.8 per cent in that one month. This correlates with 322,000 visits from Asia to Canada between April and June of 2005, a three per cent increase from the same 2004 quarter.
Those numbers will increase when negotiations between China and Canada over travel visa requirements are finalized by next summer, making travel easier for China’s middle class, said Cindy Gobin, Tourism B.C.’s market development manager for Asia.
Gobin said Whistler needs to make some changes to accommodate this new market.
“Whistler’s got it made in that its reputation is already there,” Gobin said. “People know it’s relatively easy to get back and forth there from Vancouver.”
But language is an issue.
“They’re still a little hesitant to come, knowing there aren’t the language services they need in Whistler.”
Changes are in the works, according to Tourism Whistler. The tourism marketing organization recently had 5,000 copies of a Whistler brochure printed in Mandarin for distribution at trades shows in China.
“It was a challenge to try and translate ‘Whistler’ into a Mandarin character,” said Monica Leech, senior sales manager for international markets.
Leech said procedures are being drafted for readying Whistler’s hospitality sector to accommodate Chinese travelers.
“In addition to a workshop we held last summer, we’ll be drafting a check list for local businesses, things like: Are menus available in Mandarin? Where do we need signage in Mandarin?”
She said Tourism Whistler also works with tour operators both in Canada and China.
Tourism B.C. recently opened an office in South Korea and is also planning a seminar at a Korean ski area for travel agents and media.
“We’re going to take them skiing for the afternoon and to dinner at Canada Club, a restaurant in the resort,” Gobin said.
Whistler will definitely be one of several B.C. ski resorts highlighted at the seminar, she said.