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Tourism Whistler, partners respond to flat visitor numbers



Competition, economy force resort to market Whistler more aggressively

That Whistler could be doing a lot more to target different markets was the central message to come out of a special meeting called by Tourism Whistler on Jan. 14.

The meeting was well attended, with representatives from the accommodation sector, retail sector, Whistler-Blackcomb, Chamber of Commerce and the Resort Municipality sharing ideas about how the resort can be more competitive in today's marketplace.

"Overall we're down one or two points to last year to date - anything up to two per cent up or down we consider flat," said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher.

The results are generally mixed with some market sectors showing growth while other markets have declined. The most significant drop is from the long haul U.S. market, which Fisher says is down between 15 and 20 per cent.

The regional market is up, as is the Canadian market. International travel is mixed, with markets like the UK and Australia holding their own this year. There was a slight increase in German visitors as their economy has improved, and emerging markets in Hong Kong and Taiwan are compensating for the still soft Japanese travel market.

Although the statistics for this year are not that bad when you consider factors like the increase in the Canadian dollar, the soft U.S. economy, and orange (high) terror alerts during the Christmas holidays, Fisher says there is still some cause for concern.

"We called the meeting because we believe that in order to continue to see positive growth for Whistler, and to continue to ensure that we preserve our market share, we do have to meet a variety of challenges in the marketplace," she said.

"Some (challenges) are internal, within the resort, that we can effect and influence, and some are external, outside of our control. Things within our control are solutions like competitive offers that we can put into the marketplace, and how we can aggressively promote out product."

There is a combination of factors that are affecting the tourism market, says Fisher.

The most obvious have to do with a softer economy south of the border, the shrinking gap between the U.S. and Canadian dollars, and the post-9/11 impacts on travel and tourism.

"There are certain things we can influence, and certain things we cannot. We cannot influence that some of our U.S. guests have decided to stay home this year and seek better value in their regional areas. (We cannot influence) that there is orange border alerts discouraging them from Canadian travel," Fisher said.

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