The bad news first - based on early bookings, Tourism Whistler is projecting a drop in visitors during the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival by five to 10 per cent, which is better than average for this winter but down compared to the 2008 festival.
The good news is that even with a decline visitor numbers are up to five per cent ahead of the 2007 festival, and in the range of what Whistler has seen in past years.
But perhaps the best news is that projections continue to be almost meaningless as more visitors are booking their trips only weeks or days ahead. As a result of last minute bookings actual numbers this winter have been consistently better than forecast.
"What we've been seeing is that even though we're pacing behind our last minute bookings have been consistently strong, so we would expect to see the same again for April, May and June," said Jeff McDonald, manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler. "People are making the decision to travel... closer to the dates they actually travel."
Following the World Ski and Snowboard Festival - which was created to lure people to Whistler at the close of the ski season - things look soft compared to last year. Early forecasts for May and June are 10 to 15 per cent behind last year, although McDonald believes that there will continue to be last minute pickup. As well, the Victoria Day long weekend in May is on par with other years.
Overall the resort is down roughly 10 per cent this year, less than the 12 per cent that Tourism Whistler forecast as a worst-case scenario at the start of the winter.
Whistler is also faring better than some competitors in the U.S. According to the last report by the Mountain Travel Research Program, released in mid-March, overall occupancy for MTRiP resorts was 54.5 per cent in February compared to 63.9 per cent the previous year. Overall, November through April occupancy is down about 16.3 per cent, even with room rates about 12 per cent lower than last year.
MTRiP derives its data from 216 property management companies in 15 mountain destinations in Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia.