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Tourism Whistler puts post-Olympic plans into motion

Focus will return to long-haul and destination markets, wider resort experience

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Tasked with the job of bringing visitors to the resort year-round, Tourism Whistler has had to adjust to a changing travel market time and time again over the past few years and spend its resources accordingly.

However, with the global economic crisis that unfolded in 2008 - itself coming on the heels of other challenges like the rising price of fuel, new passport requirements and a surging Canadian dollar, as well as the prospect of the Olympic aversion effect - Tourism Whistler decided to refocus its resources on the regional market. That has meant Alberta, Washington and the Vancouver area for the most part, although some resources were still devoted to marketing the resort Canada-wide, as well as to key markets in the U.S. and overseas markets like the U.K. and Australia.

Now, with the Olympics in the history books and signs that the economy may be improving, Tourism Whistler has changed its strategy once again.

"If we go back the last two years with the economic downturn, the long-haul U.S. market clearly showed us that they were staying close to home," explained Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler.

"The exchange rates of the U.S. and U.K. took a dive compared to the Canadian dollar, so in the value equation that made it more expensive for those markets to travel to Canada. And because those markets were also struggling, strategically our board agreed two years ago to focus on close-in, core markets."

The decision to focus on the regional market was successful, with solid skier numbers in the 2008-09 season and better than forecast numbers for 2009-2010, when Olympic aversion was a factor. The summer of 2009 was also the resort's best ever for room nights, although lower-priced rooms in general meant a lower yield for accommodation providers. The local market spent less on retail and food and beverage, booked closer in, and stayed for shorter lengths of time.

In the months following the Olympic Games, Tourism Whistler conducted three listening sessions and an online survey with its nearly 1,000 members. Fisher says the consensus was that it was time to refocus Tourism Whistler's efforts on attracting the destination market while leveraging the exposure the resort received during the 2010 Winter Games - a move she says Tourism Whistler's research data also supports.

"While the economy is not coming back as quickly as we would like, we always knew that the close-in, core market strategy was really a short-term shift to sustain our resort economy through the crisis - and that we needed to win the destination markets back," said Fisher.

She says Tourism Whistler performs analysis of every market. In general, they've found that visitors from the region spend one to three days in the resort. Mid-haul markets from Canada and the U.S. might spend three to five nights, while international travellers from the U.K. and Australia will spent seven to 10 nights.

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