It’s been a rocky year for the Canadian dollar, from a record high of $1.10 U.S. in November 2007, to a four-year low of about 79 cents this week after record drops in value of nearly 20 per cent.
While the value of the Canadian dollar is a small concern compared to the wider global economic crisis, it’s a story that’s of particular interest to Tourism Whistler. With U.S. visits forecasted to decline this year, and overall visitor numbers forecast to decline by as much as 12 per cent (worst case scenario), a low dollar is good news for Whistler.
Breton Murphy, manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler, says that they are responding immediately in their promotions, and encouraging their members to do the same.
“It’s a bit too early too see if (the low dollar) is affecting pickup because it’s been too short a timeframe to see any cause and effect, but there is no doubt that we are trying to leverage the low dollar to show the value to Americans,” said Murphy. “At Whistler.com, which is just one channel, we’re pricing everything in U.S. dollars at the newest dollar value so people can see in real terms how their dollar is positioned, and we can enhance the value we’re offering.
“Because there are so many factor affecting choices right now, we can’t say that there’s a direct solid line between the dollar value and any bookings we may have gotten in the last week, but we are doing everything we can to make consumers aware of it.”
Murphy said a low dollar is helpful in attracting visitors from the U.S., as well as keeping Canadians vacationing in Canada.
Oil prices could also be a factor for visitors, says Murphy. Since July, when oil was nearing a record $150 per barrel the price has dropped to roughly $62 this week. In the U.S., the price of gas in some areas has dropped by $1 per gallon, and the price of air travel is also dropping.
Combined with a lower dollar, Murphy believes that more visitors from the U.S. will consider vacationing in Whistler — especially in the regional market, which includes Washington state, Oregon, and other U.S. neighbours.
“For folks who can hop in cars and drive up, the decline in fuel prices and a strong exchange rate from their perspective will make it easier to see the value of vacationing here,” he said.
While Tourism Whistler is working with its partners to push the exchange rate, Murphy says they are encouraging other businesses in Whistler to do the same in their promotions and partnerships. For example, Murphy says accommodation providers and the tour operators and agencies they work with should take advantage of the opportunity advertise packages in U.S. dollars so visitors can compare Whistler with other destinations.
On Nov. 20, Tourism Whistler is hosting its annual meeting with the commercial sector, which Murphy says can also leverage the exchange rate.
“At Tourism Whistler we post a recommended exchange rate on a regular basis and share that with our members,” said Murphy. “The difference is that now the difference is significant enough that it’s important that retailers and the resort as a whole recognizes it, and that there is an opportunity to promote that to our visitors. People do go shopping when they’re here, and they need to know when they go into a restaurant or a store that there is some added value for their dollar.”
As for Tourism Whistler’s plans to revisit their “book early and save” offers, possibly extending the booking deadline from Nov. 15 to Nov. 30, Murphy says the decision was made to keep the Nov. 15 date that the resort has been using for several years, but to follow up with another offer immediately afterwards.
After Nov. 15, Tourism Whistler will be launching a “stay and ski free” package that offers similar value but with different terms. For example, one package would include a fifth night of free accommodation and a fourth day of free skiing.
“For us, that Nov. 15 date is well-established for a number of years and we’re going to stick to that date,” said Murphy. “There are advantages to booking early, as well as having a date established that is recognized in the industry and by our customers.”
Also, accommodation providers are being encouraged to offer their own book early and save offers through other channels, says Murphy.