Despite 236 cm of snow and a spring break that was on par with last year, paid room nights in Whistler were down 10 per cent in March compared to the same period last year, according to the latest numbers released by Tourism Whistler (TW).
The good news is that Whistler continues to beat estimates, with TW forecasting a decline of 12 to 20 per cent in paid room nights at the start of the season. Those forecasts have become increasingly unreliable as more visitors book at the last minute.
"That's held true for the entire winter as the percentage of last minute bookings has risen each month, and March was no exception," said Jeff McDonald, manager of corporate and member communications for TW. "For March the percentage of last minute bookings was unusually high, in the area of 15 per cent (of paid room nights)."
To put that into perspective, last minute bookings accounted for 10 per cent of paid room nights in February, and slightly less than 10 per cent in January.
"There is still a fair bit of uncertainty in the economy, and we're seeing that in the way people book their vacations," said McDonald.
This week Tourism B.C. also released its own numbers for February, tracking overnight customs entries to B.C. and Canada.
U.S. overnight visitors dropped 16.1 per cent compared to February 2008, while nationally the decline was in the area of seven per cent. To date, U.S. overnight visitors are down 11.7 per cent to B.C. and 5.3 per cent for the rest of Canada.
Those declines were evident across the board, with Asia/Pacific Overnight visitors dropping 11.1 per cent in B.C. compared to 13.4 per cent for the rest of Canada.
European overnight visits declined 9.1 per cent in B.C. and 8.8 per cent for the rest of Canada.
The few markets where there was an increase in visits include Australia (up 4.9 per cent for B.C.), China (up 4.1 per cent), New Zealand (up 24.9 per cent), India (up 36.3 per cent), and South East Asia (up 31.4 per cent). The bright spots from Europe include Germany (up 16.6 per cent), France (up 57.2 per cent), Switzerland and Italy.
Taken together, overnight international visits to B.C. declined 14.2 per cent to 203,673 visitors in February over the previous year, which is almost twice the decline reported nationally.
Year to date, visits are down 9.8 per cent provincially and 5.4 per cent nationally.