Despite the best efforts of Whistler's tourism stakeholders, the provincial government announced last week it would be shifting B.C. Family Day in 2019 to align with the rest of the country.
"Moving Family Day is the right thing to do for businesses small and large, and is better for families who may be spread out across the country," said Premier John Horgan in a release. "This gives families an opportunity to schedule and spend more time with loved ones from other provinces."
The announcement follows years of lobbying from resort stakeholders, who warned against moving the holiday from the second to the third Monday of the month, as it overlaps with the already busy U.S. President's Day weekend.
According to Tourism Whistler (TW), the resort's hotels are nearly fully booked every Presidents' Day weekend.
"This will make our second busiest weekend of the year even busier, and it's not going to result in increased room-night sales because we're already full," explained Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "So having the holiday on the second Monday spread the demand out over two weekends and was great from the perspective of the guest experience and also the level of occupancy."
Wilhelm-Morden said she wasn't surprised by the NDP's decision after a resolution to move the holiday passed at this fall's Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention by a wide margin. There was also considerable pressure from the financial sector to align B.C.'s Family Day with markets across Canada and in the U.S.
"At the end of the day, I think this was a populist move on the part of the premier," the mayor added.
The decision didn't sit well with B.C.'s ski industry, with the Family Day weekend bringing in between $7 million and $10 million in incremental visitor spending at ski destinations across the province.
"No doubt it's a negative for ski tourism," said Canada West Ski Areas Association president Christopher Nicolson. "The last five years have presented an opportunity to try and balance summer and winter tourism in the province."
B.C. Liberal critics Michelle Stilwell and Doug Clovechok were more pointed in their criticism, calling the NDP's lack of consultation on the decision "a slap in the face" to the province's tourism sector.
In a statement sent to Pique, B.C.'s tourism ministry reiterated the government's support for the province's tourism and ski industries, highlighting the more than $300,000 committed to promoting events taking place at or near ski resorts in 2018 — including $80,000 for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival set for Whistler this April.
"The government is committed to growing tourism, and confident that B.C. ski resorts will continue to thrive," the statement read in part. "This change in date for Family Day enables more families to get together, from all across the country, and helps many businesses which were struggling with the previous date."
Part of the original impetus behind situating Family Day on the second Monday of February was to encourage British Columbians to get out and enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities before the rush of American visitors the following weekend. Locally, that meant resort hotels, outdoor activity providers, Whistler Blackcomb, and the municipality all offered discounted rates to B.C. residents. With the shift in dates, that is likely a thing of the past.
"When people look back at this (decision), I think what they will see is what we have done is actually taken an incentive away from British Columbians to enjoy the outdoors," said Hotel Association of Whistler president Saad Hassan.
Karen Goodwin, TW's vice-president of sales, said the organization would likely put added emphasis on encouraging British Columbians to book their winter holiday early in 2019.
"Our opportunity now is to continue to find ways to welcome the B.C. market to Whistler when we can provide that great experience combined with excellent value for money," she said. "They are important loyal visitors, so we're going to look for other opportunities."
Given how busy the resort has become, Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace doesn't anticipate a significant loss in revenue for the local business community. Viewed through a different lens, she said rescheduling Family Day could actually be an opportunity for the resort.
"Whistler as a community has always been very creative with our weekends, so does this open us up to create something a little bit different?" she wondered. "We're going to work very closely with our partners moving forward to 2019 and look at different opportunities that we can fill in on that weekend."