The worst economic crisis in several years will have a minimal impact on Whistler’s visitors this summer, according to the latest projections by Tourism Whistler.
Bookings for the summer of 2008 are so far tracking on par with the record summer of 2007, despite the fact that U.S. visitor numbers will continue to decline as a result of record gas prices, new passport and I.D. requirements at the border, a higher Canadian dollar, and an economy that is entering a recession. U.S. visits last winter were down approximately 10 per cent, and Tourism Whistler will continue to monitor the situation through the summer.
Breton Murphy, manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler, says that other markets appear to be filling the gap left by the U.S. market.
“We are expecting some softness in the U.S. market,” he said. “But I think the early numbers we’re seeing speak to the success we’ve had as a resort in creating a balanced portfolio in different key markets that we’re able to draw from, and that has resulted in our being able to achieve a forecast on par with last summer.
“Right now we’re seeing a growth in visits from the U.K. and Australia, and we’re also expecting some growth out of the regional B.C. market and Ontario,” he added. Group tours and group business portfolios are also strong.
Summer 2007 room nights, from May to October, were up six per cent over 2006, while 2006 was up nine per cent over the previous record summer of 2002.
Tourism Whistler has conducted surveys in the past to find out why travel to Whistler has increased in the summer, and have discovered that visitors are coming for the value and for the wide range of activities available.
“The awareness of the breadth and scope of activities has become greater in recent years,” said Murphy. “There’s recognition that this is the place to go, whether you’re interested in extreme activities or soft adventure. Some people come to go downhill mountain biking, while others are more attracted to cross-country. Some come for the golf, and others come to hike and hang out at the lakes.”
In other words, Murphy says people visit here for the same reason that people live here, and want to tap into the energy of the resort and its employees in the summer months.
Tourism Whistler is also conscious of what it will take to bring aging baby boomers to the resort, and recently hosted a workshop on tapping into this market.
Tourism Whistler is working with activity operators, the accommodation sector and the service sector to be able to offer packages that appeal to different market segments.
“We’re trying to make it as simple as possible for people to visit by providing them with packages, providing the options they’re looking for, and giving visitors lots of choice whether they’re coming for two days, four days or a week,” said Murphy.
Tourism Whistler is encouraging local businesses to work together to provide packages, such as accommodation packages that might include services like spas, activities like golfing, and dining experiences like Dine and Unwind. That strategy has boosted the shoulder season, mid-April to mid-June, according to Murphy.
“When it comes to exceptional value and choice, look at the month of May where you can really profile the true all-season nature of Whistler — there aren’t many places where you can golf, ski and mountain bike, all in the same day,” he said. “It’s a terrific story, and something that sets us apart as unique, and it makes us world class as well.”
Packages are also being tailored to emphasize value, bundling airfare, transportation to Whistler, accommodation to the resort, and activities.
“Right now the cost of flying is expensive, which can be a major barrier, but we’re working together with our partners to create packages that offset the cost of taking a trip to Whistler,” said Murphy. “It might be a package with flight, accommodation and an activity like a ski pass or mountain bike park pass, and it could include transportation options like a transfer from Vancouver Airport to here.”
Tourism Whistler is also encouraging businesses to be aware of the bigger picture and become involved.
“What we’ve seen in recent years, when we’ve been responding to crisis after crisis, is that the value equation is continuing to deliver for us,” said Murphy. “What we’re seeing in the near-term has given us reason to be cautiously optimistic.
“When we see challenges, high fuel prices, etcetera, we try to make businesses aware of the bigger picture and to recognize that they can play a role in what we do to mitigate the challenge and take advantage of opportunities that drive room nights. Individual owners and operators of properties, retail outlets, restaurants, activity operators are armed with information that helps them contribute to the resort’s value equation.”