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Province launching $1.1-million ski marketing program

Whistler to be marketed in Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco and Los Angeles



Transit shelters, subways and elevators in Ontario and elsewhere will be draped in wistful images of Whistler and other B.C. resorts as the province ramps up efforts to get people to ski here.

Pat Bell, B.C.'s Minister of Tourism, Jobs and Innovation, said in a Tuesday news conference that from November to March the provincial government will carry out "Get Above it All in British Columbia," a $1.1-million North American ski marketing campaign that will see them try to draw visitors from Toronto, California and Washington State.

"We've been working with 13 ski resorts in the province to develop this strategy," Bell said. "We think it can be very, very strong for us and make sure we have the kind of winter that people have been looking for throughout B.C."

Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, said she was happy that the province is putting greater focus in the U.S. market because it helps fill a gap left by the Canadian Tourism Commission, which about a year ago took focus away from the U.S. and put it on Europe.

"As a result there was a gap left in the U.S., so we are very pleased Tourism B.C. is putting some investment into the U.S.," she said. "The U.S. market, even though it's been challenged with a tough economy and currency, it is nevertheless one of our largest markets."

The strategy comes at a time that Whistler is looking to up its intake of destination visitors, meaning not people from regional markets like Vancouver and Washington State. Whistler Blackcomb noted in its third quarterly report from earlier this year that it is seeing strong visitation from the regional market but is facing "headwinds" in the destination market.

Whistler Blackcomb has stated in the past that it needs to raise destination visits in order to make planned infrastructural upgrades such as replacing the Crystal Chair and installing a new chairlift at the popular Harmony ski area.

Asked why the province is not concentrating on marketing skiing in Europe, which has been in previous years a large source of destination visits, Bell said the areas where the province is concentrating its marketing activity come at the recommendation of the 13 ski resorts it is working with... including Whistler Blackcomb.

"The advice we received from the representative from Whistler was that Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle were the four communities they wanted us to invest in," he said.

"They believe that they have sufficient reach into the European market already. Let's keep in mind that the European marketplace is going through significant market turmoil."

The ski marketing plan comes as part of "Gaining the Edge: A Five-Year Strategy for Tourism in British Columbia," a new provincial initiative that aims for a five per cent annual growth in revenue in the tourism sector, expecting it to reach $18 billion annually by 2016.

The plan, announced by B.C. Premier Christy Clark at the 2011 B.C. Tourism Industry Conference, aims at drawing more tourists from countries with large emerging middle classes such as China and India, as well as maintaining visitor numbers from areas such as Ontario, California/Washington, the UK, Germany, Australia and Japan.

In a news release issued Tuesday, the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce lauded the new strategy, saying it came about as a result of "industry collaboration."

"This new five year plan will bring new money to the tourism sector and be a driver of job growth around the province," John Winter, B.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said in a news release.

"It is gratifying to see the province and the tourism sectors collaborating on achieving this lofty goal."