Resort set all-time record for room nights in January By Amy Fendley It used to be that January was a relatively slow month for Whistler, a bit of respite between the busy Christmas and spring break seasons. Not any more. January 1999 marked the first time in Whistler’s history the resort has sold more than 100,000 room nights in one month. The previous record was in March of last year, when the resort sold 99,000 room nights. The record January room nights were a 29 per cent increase over the same month last year. And numbers released last week by Whistler-Blackcomb show skier visits to date are 18 per cent ahead of last winter’s record total. "It’s phenomenal growth," said Barrett Fisher, vice president of marketing for the Whistler Resort Association. "The exciting part is that January 1999 was the busiest month ever in Whistler’s history." "One would attribute these big market increases to record snowfall and phenomenal snow conditions, exchange rate and media coverage which is making Whistler attractive and is increasing business," said Fisher. Every year the WRA conducts an "area of origin" count to see where business is coming from. Last year the U.S. market increased by 61 per cent. Tourist visits from Washington State, California, and Eastern Seaboard cities, recently the targets of a direct marketing campaigns advertising inexpensive airfare, increased 30 to 64 per cent. "The fabulous exchange rates for the U.S. market in Canada allowed us to highlight excellent air rates," said Fisher. "We’re breaking the philosophy that Whistler’s high-priced by having special promotion packages that we’re selling out of the central reservations office, which similarly, also experienced a banner January, exceeding all targets." Fisher says the most notable increases this winter have been out of the American mid-west and the Rockies, which increased 200 per cent and 125 per cent respectively. Certainly excellent snow conditions locally and below average snow conditions elsewhere have helped boost Whistler’s numbers. Intrawest said last week that in the period since the end of the Christmas holidays, its resorts had increased skier visits 9 per cent over last winter, on a same-resort basis. However, year-to-date, on a same resort basis, skier visits are the same as last year, with the exception of Whistler-Blackcomb which is up 18 per cent. "In a year when Colorado had its lowest snowfall in 40 years, and the East Coast had unseasonably warm weather, we consider it a great achievement to still have skier visits at last year’s record levels," said Dan Jarvis, executive vice president and chief financial officer. As for over-seas visitors to Whistler this winter, the U.K and Germany have continued to be two of the stronger markets, up by 10 per cent. The WRA anticipates continued growth, although not the double digit growth seen out of the U.S. Whistler is increasing its market share of Germany in particular, as Whistler’s name gains popularity relative to other North American ski resorts. The Australian market has increased by 65 per cent this winter. The bad news, however, is the faltering Asian market. There has been a 30 per cent decrease in the Japanese market in recent years, especially in the younger skier segment. Fisher says university students in their 20s are "more price-resistant." However, she is not worried about the short term loss and anticipates a turn-around within the next couple of years. In fact, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission, inbound travel to Canada from Asia Pacific is showing its first signs of recovery since the region’s economic downturn. Arrivals in November 1998 from Japan, Australia and Taiwan increased over the previous year, with Taiwan posting the largest gain of almost 12 per cent. "Possible factors contributing to these increases include strong Canadian marketing campaigns combined with stabilizing local currencies," says John Burchell, the CTC’s manager for marketing in Japan. "Given high per capita incomes and personal wealth levels in Japan, travel is expected to be among the first sectors to rebound," Burchell added. Fisher said that Ontario is a good comparison to Japan in terms of rebounding from a recession. Ontario now comprises 54 per cent of the resort’s room stays. Although Ontario numbers rose substantially, the Canadian market as a whole remains flat.