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Summer sightseeing grows Whistler Blackcomb's business

Trend of increasing summertime visitors looks likely to continue



Since the Peak 2 Peak gondola was installed almost three years ago, summer sightseeing business on the mountain has increased roughly 50 per cent - a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

Even though summer has been slow to start in Whistler, early indications from Tourism Whistler are that room nights in June were up over last year. Bookings for the remainder of July are pacing 16 per cent ahead and August is pacing five per cent ahead of 2010. And last year was one of the best on record.

Summer visitor numbers are on the rise, increasingly becoming a crucial piece of Whistler's tourism puzzle.

Summer business accounts for 15 per cent of Whistler Blackcomb's year-round revenue.

While that doesn't seem like a large slice of the pie, it's "significant" said Chief Operating Officer Dave Brownlie.

"The summer business is very important for us," he added.

It's only set to get better as a wider and more diverse audience come to explore Whistler's summertime activities. Whereas there is a somewhat narrow market for skiing and snowboarding, summer activities blow that market wide open.

"(There's a) far broader range of people in the summertime, which is great," said Brownlie.

"I think Whistler is really well positioned to take advantage of the international visitors in the summertime."

He points to China as an example of an area where there could be summertime growth in the short-term, particularly with the recent announcement of direct flights from Guangzhou to Vancouver with China Southern Airlines.

"We do expect to see some growth from China in the coming years and initially in the summertime," said Brownlie.

According to Tourism Whistler, last summer was Whistler's third busiest on record in terms of room nights with resort-wide paid occupancy at 44 per cent. It is estimated that 1.46 million unique visitors came last year over the summertime months.

That has helped the bottom line at Whistler Blackcomb.

Brownlie explained that many resorts close for the summer, effectively losing money over those months until the snow begins to fall. At Whistler Blackcomb, summer business not only contributes to the year-round employment, it also is a contributor to its fixed cost structure - those costs that remain unchanged despite fluctuating business levels.

"It gives us a stability to the business," said Brownlie.

And not just Whistler Blackcomb.

In January, Ski Area Management magazine surveyed ski resorts across the globe about their other season operations. The results were published in its May issue.

Of the 100 ski resorts that responded, including Whistler Blackcomb, 44 per cent are four-season resorts, while 23 per cent are one-season resorts.

About a quarter of the resorts highlighted that 20 per cent or more of their revenue comes from summer operations.

When asked what they were considering adding in the next two years, 42 per cent responded that ziplines were up for consideration.

Whistler Blackcomb, which offers a range of summer activities from mountain biking and ziplining to bear viewing and hiking, is also looking at new things to entice guests but Brownlie wouldn't give away too much about that.

"We're always looking for new opportunities and new things," he said.

In the meantime, Whistler Blackcomb is making the most of the weather and the gloomy summer to date.

"Skiing on the glacier has never been better," said Brownlie.

And while the snow has been slow to melt off the hiking trails, it has meant the tube park had a great extended season in the alpine.

The tube park is now closed, hopefully heralding the beginning of the true summer season.



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