Rumour had it the Olympics were going to boost Whistler up to Cloud Nine where it would coast easily over the remainder of the recession.
But that hasn't been the case, as shown by this winter's eight per cent drop in room night sales. While the numbers look grim, Whistler is the first municipality to host an Olympic Games in the midst of a recession, and without anything to compare it to, experts are unable to say whether or not the current struggles should be considered normal. What is clear and has been repeatedly stated by Tourism Whistler and the media is that the spin-off benefits from the extensive media coverage of Whistler during last year's Games would take 12 to 24 months to show.
"When it comes to developing new markets, today we're seeing visitation from people already on a Vancouver trip and visitation from regional markets in summertime again," said Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher.
"But when it comes to developing new awareness markets, if we're bringing skiers from overseas markets where they're travelling to Canada, the belief was that would take a longer period to develop."
Having near perfect occupancy last February and March (97 per cent) meant any numbers from this winter were likely to be disappointing. All indications from the original Tourism Whistler (TW) forecast pointed to lower numbers. The surprise was the slower-than-expected turnaround of the U.S. market.
"The piece that was new for us was the fact that when you look at what all the Bank of Canada indications were forecasting, what the Conference Board of Canada, and all of the major financial institutions that we rely on for our own forecasting information (said), there was a belief before last summer, early fall, that we would start to see some rebound from the U.S. market and so this is separate and distinct from the Games and more about our typical skier market and would they start to increase travel," said Fisher.
"In fact, some of the projections of both U.S. and U.K. travel were since downgraded, so we in turn downgraded our own forecast but the outcome as a result was lower than we originally anticipated just based on our information and that is primarily due to the currencies in both the U.S. and U.K., weaker currencies against a strong Canadian dollar certainly does undermine purchasing power and travel is often one of the first things to go."
Looking back, winter seasonal occupancy in the 1999/2000 season was about 70 per cent. The trend was downward from there until 2005/2006 when it began to climb again to reach over 60 per cent the following year. It took a dive again in 2008/2009 but has been climbing back and last season sat just below 60 per cent.