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Whistler Blackcomb sees third quarter losses

Timing of Easter break impacts bottom line



Thanks to Easter falling outside of Whistler Blackcomb's third quarter in 2013 skier visits and revenue were down for the reporting period ending June 30 for the corporation.

"We experienced a reduction of skier visits in Q3 as a result of the calendar timing of the Easter holiday, which resulted in a loss of momentum in April and May," said Dave Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. as a conference call this week.

"I would like to point out that despite the slowdown on skier visits that we experienced in our late season, our efforts to grow Effective Ticket Price (ETP) and revenue per visit resulted in higher revenue for the season."

Revenue reached $29.7 million for the three months ending June 30, which represents a decrease of $4.7 million, or 14 per cent.

Skier visits were 249,000 in Q3 a decrease of 83,000, or 25 per cent.

But it wasn't all bad news. Brownlie also reported that for the total nine months, ending June 30, revenues increased by two per cent to $212 million, while revenue per skier visit increased by six per cent to $95.59.

Three key drivers of revenue growth for this period included an ETP increase of five per cent to $51.68 as a result of pricing increases across all of Whistler Blackcomb's lift product categories. As well, the company generated increased spending in auxiliary business categories. Finally, there were record sales in season passes and frequency cards, resulting in a five per cent increase in sales to $44.5 million for the nine months ending June 30.

Brownlie added with Easter falling later in the season in 2014, it is anticipated that late skier visits will be more in line with historical visitation patterns.

The guest mix for the 2012/2013 season was consistent with the previous season, he said.

Regional visits were strong until the end of March, when there was loss of visit momentum as a result of early Easter holiday.

The pace of destination visit growth did not meet expectations, Brownlie said.

"Our internal analysis contributes the majority of the decline to the early Easter holiday and the economic weakness from our European markets," he said, adding that things had improved in terms of European guest numbers since the winter.

"I am hopeful we will see this trend last until out fall booking period."

The third quarter summer visits were again seeing "positive traction," Brownlie said.

"The Whistler Resort events strategy, which has seen weekly programming for arts, culture and sporting events has combined with our enhanced sales and marketing efforts have allowed up to meet our current expectations," he said, adding Whistler Blackcomb was looking forward to next week's Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival.

In terms of growth and maintenance capital initiatives, the Harmony and Crystal lift expansion projects are on time and budget, Brownlie reported. Both are expected to be opened by early December. As well, maintenance capital projects were expected to take up about five per cent of revenue.

Whistler Blackcomb has entered into an agreement to buy all the shares of ski and snowboard rental company Base Mountain Sports, which has nine Affinity Sport/Intersports locations around Whistler with an expected closing date of September 2013. The company will be operated under its current branding, Brownlie said.

"The acquisition will help our rental market share within Whistler and contribute to rental and EBIDA growth," he added.

In terms of the upcoming season, Brownlie reported that spring campaign for 2013/2014 seasons passes and frequency cards resulted in an eight per cent increase in sales over the same time last year, and a 17 per cent increase over 2011, "locking in pre-committed revenue."

Whistler Blackcomb intends to maximize its investments in the Harmony and Crystal lifts during the upcoming season, particularly regionally, and to increase its marketing and sales spend with a focus on destination markets and a greater use of digital media.

Brownlie said he was disappointed to announce the departure of Jeremy Roche, Whistler Blackcomb's senior manager of investor relations, after 12 years with the company. He is leaving to join a heliskiing company in Banff; his final day is Aug. 8.


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