High hopes for phenomenal business over the Christmas and New Year’s period did not materialize for many Whistler retailers who rely predominately on tourist trade.
Several business owners said not only did the numbers fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations and hype for this millennium holiday period, but performance was actually down over last year, particularly for the period between Christmas and New Year which is traditionally rock-solid.
There is, however, still a general mood of optimism and an expectation end-of-season results will still match those of the record-breaking 1998/99 winter.
Bob Adams, Whistler Chamber of Commerce president and owner of the Grocery Store and the Upper Village Market, said his holiday business performance was more on par with two years ago than with last year. He said his businesses are tourist oriented and often reflect the number of actual visitors in the resort. “Business was strong leading up to a couple of days before Christmas and then we were down significantly through Christmas to about two days before New Year’s,” said Adams. “I have talked to a number of people in the business community and I think that trend was fairly general.”
He said two key factors likely influenced performance — resistance to aggressive millennium pricing plus the fact business executives likely deferred their holidays because of potential Y2K problems at their places of work.
“I think people decided not to come because of high costs and the feeling they were being gouged.”
But, said Adams, those who decided not to travel over Christmas and New Year’s will still likely come in January, February or March. “All the indicators I have seen show really strong visits from about the ninth of January. I am very optimistic and I think overall it will be a very good winter.”
That positive outlook is also prevalent with other business owners. Long-time Whistler retailer and councillor Dave Kirk said he too is hopeful about the remainder of the season.
“I am optimistic based on the information we have been given.” But he did say business was down this holiday season.
“Last year was a hard act to follow... in our business (sports shops) there’s always more competition it seems. The piece of pie gets thinner and thinner so it’s hard to compare with previous years but I have talked to people, like Doug Forseth (senior vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb), and we know the numbers were definitely down for the four days after Christmas and that was reflected in sales for sure.”