Whistler's soon-to-be snowy slopes will benefit from a Tourism BC campaign to attract long-haul visitors to British Columbia's ski resorts.
B.C.'s tourism minister, Pat Bell, launched the campaign in Toronto by challenging Whistler 2010 Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor in a virtual ski race.
The race, a motion-sensored video game, took place in a portable, glass-walled truck in downtown Toronto. Passersby were invited to participate. The winner from each head-to-head contest was presented with a one-day lift ticket to one of B.C.'s 13 ski resorts.
Twelve of B.C.'s 13 ski resorts were in Canada's largest city to attend the Toronto Ski, Snowboard and Travel Show. This is the first time participants in the show from B.C. have co-ordinated their efforts under a single B.C. branding: "Ski It To Believe It."
Targeting Ontario, California, and Washington, Ski It To Believe It will focus on the abundance and quality of B.C. snow. The campaign, with special offers and snow conditions at the province's 13 resorts, allows visitors to sign up for an e-version of the BC Ski Guide and compete for a $15,000 ultimate ski vacation.
The campaign runs through March 2013 and has a budget of $1.55 million.
In an interview, Bell said the investment in the campaign was triple that of three years ago. He added that in his previous portfolio as forestry minister, he had also convinced companies to work together for the greater good of the industry.
"So we tried to convince the ski industry that working collaboratively was more effective and that if we could drive traffic, even though any individual resort might not get the traffic in a given year of the project, over time the collaboration would achieve a way better result than a more individualized approach," Bell said.
"It took a little bit of work to get people together but I think it wasn't something that took a long time. The other piece of it, too, it that we engaged the industry much earlier in terms of asking them to participate in the development of our strategy."
Bell said the 2011-2012 season had barely ended before the government was working on the development of strategy with B.C. resorts, including the materials like a recent insert in The Globe and Mail.
"It was very much developed by the industry... I think that and the promotion of the industry working together is going to give us a very positive result," he said.
And as for competing against Whistler's great gold medal winner?
"It was fun. I met Ashleigh once before, she was very gentle. She only beat me by about half the length of the ski course! So that was good. I think they were trying to set up a victory for me and I said 'No, no... if I win, everyone will know it's rigged,'" Bell said.
Three TV stations came out, also print and radio, to record his drubbing by McIvor.
"I think we got very, very good coverage. And that continued on the Saturday with a lot of people coming out to try their skills on the video game," Bell said.
"Talking to individual resorts in the show, I was hearing numbers ranging from five to 25 per cent growth over last year in terms of early bookings. That's very optimistic. One cat ski company there said they were 85 per cent booked for the season already."
Bell said in August before the launch of the campaign that he thought it was possible that B.C.'s six million skier visits could be turned into eight, nine or even ten million visits in the coming years.
"Whistler Blackcomb is thrilled to be a part of the 'Ski It To Believe It' campaign," David Brownlie, president and COO, Whistler Blackcomb, said in a release last week. "The beauty of skiing in B.C. is the diversity of terrain. By joining forces with our Ski BC partners, we will be able to tell the story of all of the unique experiences to be found in B.C. and work together to continue to grow the ski industry in our beautiful province."
Bell said tourism provides jobs for one out of every 15 employees in this province, and added $13.4 billion to the provincial economy last year.
For more information, visit www.skiittobelieveit.com
- With files by Alison Taylor.