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TW expects 2016-17 winter to be busiest on record

Company announces organizational restructuring



In what's become something of an annual tradition, Whistler looks set to usher in another record-breaking winter, according to early-season figures provided by Tourism Whistler (TW).

Following a 2015-16 season that was the busiest winter in resort history, strong growth in both November and December has TW predicting another ski season for the record books.

"All of our pace reports are showing that we're going to see growth in every month (of the winter)," noted TW president Barrett Fisher. "I think it's safe to say that winter 2016-17 is (shaping up) to be our strongest winter season on record."

Room night bookings for the month of November were up 24 per cent over last year, largely bolstered by strong demand from Whistler's key regional markets, such as B.C., Alberta and Washington State, Fisher said.

December, typically one of the busiest months on the resort calendar thanks in part to advanced holiday bookings, also saw a double-digit increase, up 11 per cent from 2015. Fisher said the bulk of the growth was seen during the early portions of the month, and demand was high from both regional and destination markets. The pace of bookings from Mexico, for instance, was up a whopping 33 per cent, which Fisher attributed to the recent relaxing of visa regulations as well as added direct flights into Vancouver.

Although the numbers for January aren't finalized, Fisher expects occupancy rates to pace between four and five per cent higher than last year. She also predicts minor growth in the always busy months of February and March.

Last week, Tourism Whistler also announced an organizational restructuring that reflects "the evolving nature of the tourism industry" and meets "current and future demands."

The rejigging stems from a job opening for TW's VP of marketing following the departure of Louise Walker last year. Kirsten Homeniuk, former director of marketing services, has been tapped to fill the position.

"When there's a vacancy rather than replacing it exactly as is, why not do an analysis and understand what the opportunities might be both with the existing team, to continue to grow and take on new responsibilities, but also as an organization, to understand how we need to continue to adapt to an ever-changing customer environment?" Fisher said.

TW has established a Destination Development division, which combines the areas of Research and Product Development, along with Visitor Experience, Member Relations and Communications, bringing those under the new division's umbrella.

It's all part of TW's focus on the ever-changing guest experience in an increasingly digital world.

"We're seeing with the exponential shift in digital and social marketing, how more and more it's really about our guests' experience," said Fisher. "When our customer comes here, everyone's a publisher, everyone's a journalist, they're sharing their content with friends and followers in their social channels, and, as a result, we recognize that Tourism Whistler is not only a facilitator and curator of that content, but we also need to take a leadership role in positively influencing the resort experience."

Fisher said TW will take a more active role in this regard by communicating guest feedback to its more than 8,000 members.

"It's taking the insights of our customers through our research and our surveys, monitoring the social channels and understanding what customers' delights are when they come to Whistler, but also that there might be some opportunities for improvement," she explained.

Among the other changes at TW: former manager of research Meredith Kunza sees her role expanded as the new senior manager of Research and Development; former communications manager Patricia Westerholm was named the new senior manager for Destination Development and Communications; and the operation of the Visitor Centre moves to former call centre manager Wendy Brandt.

Fisher said there would be a transition period as staff settles into the new roles.