While Whistler made gains in visitors from destination markets last winter, summer is still the domain of regional markets, with B.C. and Washington State visitors accounting for over half of overnight traffic to the resort. August numbers have yet to be assessed, but Louise Walker, vice-president of marketing and strategic planning for Tourism Whistler, said that the summer of 2012 will likely rank third for visitor numbers, with all of the top three summer seasons coming in the last five years.
"May (numbers) were up seven per cent, which is good — you have to bear in mind that it's a slow month — we saw an extended ski season and an increase in performance from the Brits," she said. "June was flat in terms of room nights (compared to 2011), although we got quite a big boost around the weekend of the Tough Mudder. But with the weather off in June there wasn't the demand. July was down around three per cent for room nights, bearing in mind that July 2011 was the busiest on record and had Crankworx, so being down three per cent was expected. We did see a good boost for festivals and events like the Whistler Children's Art Festival, and a few good conference groups as well.
"August, we expect to be up around three per cent with Crankworx. We don't have all the numbers, but that's what we forecast."
Walker said that summer of 2012 should be up around one per cent over 2011, making it the third busiest on record. "We've had really strong summers the last three to five years where it's been up or down one or two per cent. May and June really are weather dependent for us, while July and August are strong months where we see a lot of business."
But while Tourism Whistler's numbers are based on occupancy at hotels, their statistics suggest that roughly 52 per cent of visitors are from the region, B.C. and Washington State, and generally stay fewer nights and spend less money while they are here. As a result, tour operators, retailers and restaurants may not be feeling like this was one of our best summers.
"We've seen some strength from travel groups that indicate a bit of a recovery in destination markets, some destination U.S. markets and other destination markets like the U.K. and Australia, but the actual numbers are definitely a lot smaller than the regional market. There's some recovery, but it's still sluggish since the recession," said Walker.
Whistler was also hit by world events. People might have stayed home — especially Brits — because of the Queen's Jubilee and the Summer Olympics, while the U.S. market can slow down before an election, she said.
Looking ahead, September is pacing behind 2011, although continued nice weather could result in more last minute bookings — a trend that has only increased since the recession as people book holidays a few days out rather than weeks or months in advance. October is pacing slightly stronger, but it's a slow month in terms of occupancy.
As for the winter, it's too early to speculate. However, the first Book Early and Save promotion, which wrapped up on Aug. 31, and offered discounts of 40 per cent, was successful. The current Book Early and Save promotion runs through Nov. 15 and offers discounts up to 35 per cent.
"These are certainly good strategies to try and get people to book in advance, because we have this advantage of all that great snow from last season, and the last two, three years," said Walker. "People are booking later and later since the recession, and the big trend is for people going online and watching the weather and for special offers, so we've really tried to... let people know that we're giving our best offer now."