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Tourism Whistler focuses on key markets

Corporate meetings and incentive business targeted in 2011 strategy



Tourism Whistler has mapped out preliminary plans to capitalize on the resort's ability to capture conference business and keep sales within the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) steady and growing in 2011.

At an all-members' meeting last week, TW representatives provided a forecast for the 2010-2011 winter and identified a number of key strategies planned to promote Whistler regionally and internationally.

"We outlined how we have shifted our budget to focus on more of our key destination markets such as increased investment in Australia, the UK, Germany, and the US," said Arlene Schieven, vice-president of marketing at Tourism Whistler.

"We have shifted dollars out of the regional market because the feedback that we have received from our members is that they can work in that market, that it is attainable for some of our members to have a presence there, where it is much more difficult for them to go out into the longer-haul markets, which we can do for them."

Tour group bookings from Australia and the UK are up substantially this winter. Hosting the Winter Olympics last February had a significant negative impact on UK visits.

Overall, the forecast for room nights this winter is down 2.7 per cent from last winter. However, that forecast would still make 2010-2011 one of Whistler's top-five winters of all time.

Room nights in 2009-2010 were up 6 per cent over the previous winter.

Surveys of visitors in the past year show that value - particularly in shops and restaurants - is still a concern among many visitors to Whistler. A number of factors were cited, including fluctuating exchange rates, an increase in day-trippers (whose mental approach to spending is different than if they were on a two-week vacation) and direct comparisons with food and drink prices in Vancouver or other cities.

According to Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher, plans to add a sales manager to target the Mid-West and East Coast, USA will help grow meetings and incentive business from those regions. Much of the success of that blueprint will depend on familiarization tours to showcase Whistler to meeting planners.

"They hear about Whistler but it is very difficult for them to visualize it until they are here to experience it first-hand," she said. "Proximity is always a key issue as to how close your hotel is to your meeting facility - again it is difficult for them to imagine it until they get here that everything is within a five-minute walk."

Tourism Whistler put an emphasis on the conference market in 2003 and 2004, with the renovation of the Whistler Conference Centre. Since then Fisher said conference room night sales have grown exponentially. Last year they more than doubled over the previous year. She credits Tourism Whistler's conference sales staff for targeting key accounts in the market for the boost.

"In the past couple of years it has been challenging - the corporate business certainly fell off after the economic meltdown and even up till recently we have had groups that have confirmed with us, they have actually signed a contract and made all their down payments but they still chose to cancel because of the perception - from a corporate perspective and to their stakeholders - that they do not want to be seen meeting in a resort destination, as the perception is that because you are in a resort you're going to be having fun," said Fisher.

"Even though Whistler is excellent value for money and competitive with any city there is that perception that we have to overcome to convince them that really, being in Whistler is just as financially beneficial as any city anywhere."

A series of webisodes featuring Whistler local and Olympic gold medalist Ashleigh McIvor are also being planned as a means to promote the community within the province.

"It'll be very video based, very visual and we are also trying to extend it and involve our membership in the campaign as well," said Schieven. "So we are planning to do 10 webisodes featuring Ashleigh and our visitors, just basically showcasing the best Whistler experience they could possibly have.

"Then those will be seeded out through the web and social media as far and wide as we can get them."




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