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Tourism Whistler sounds warning

Economic downturn expected to impact Whistler, but there are bright spots



Tourism Whistler president Barrett Fisher didn’t sugar coat the possible impacts of the economic meltdown at Tourism Whistler’s all-members meeting on Oct. 9, but called on the association’s partners in the resort to work together to meet the challenge.

“We have some tough times ahead, it’s been doom and gloom on the market side, but we have a choice,” she said. “We can either recognize that and adapt our strategies, or we can do nothing and follow (the market).

“The U.S. market decline is nothing new,” she added, “it really started back in 2007 (with the subprime mortgage issue).”

Tourism Whistler released several scenarios for the coming winter season. The worst-case scenario, based on Tourism Whistler’s long-term forecast and conversations with agents, is an overall 12 per cent drop in visitors this season compared to last. Even the best-case scenario, with the resort taking several steps recommended by Tourism Whistler, will result in a five per cent drop. Given the scope of the financial crisis, Fisher said, Whistler is in a better position than other resorts because of a superior product, reputation, location, and the additional attention the resort community will receive as a result of the Olympic Games, Olympic test events and initiatives like the Peak 2 Peak gondola.

“If we do nothing, we’ll be down 12 per cent,” she said. “If we work at it, maybe we’ll see a drop of nine per cent. If we really come together as a resort, if we co-operate, think strategically and look at prices and… act on the opportunities we could potentially be looking at a better case scenario of five per cent.”

Arlene Schieven, vice president of marketing, said we can expect the coming winter to be similar to the 2004-05 winter season, when the lack of snow in January and February kept visitors away. As well, she noted that the decline started last winter as the number of paid room nights dropped one per cent in February and March after a strong start to the season in December and early January.

While most markets appear to be trending downward, Schieven expects the regional market to be down slightly this season but otherwise strong and recommended a renewed focus on the Lower Mainland and Washington State.

Most foreign markets, including the U.S. and U.K. are expected to decline. The exception is Germany, where an increase is expected, partially because of the Olympics and the test events taking place at Olympic venues this winter. Australia was also poised for growth, but Tourism Whistler is cautious about their forecast given the recent drop in value of the Australian dollar.