Economic impact of festival estimated at $26 million
With a war wrapping up, the economy in decline, and a potentially deadly epidemic still spreading, all the organizers of the eighth annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival could be was cautiously optimistic.
Although all of the numbers are not yet in, it appears that the TWSSF attracted record crowds, bucking marketplace trends and the "average" season outlook for resorts world-wide.
Early reports from Whistler-Blackcomb indicate that Whistler experienced the busiest third week of April on record, with more visitors than in any TWSSF event in its eight-year history.
"Our skier and visitation numbers are all the more remarkable when you consider the outside factors that came into play at the time the war on Iraq, SARS, inclement weather in Vancouver and a less than vibrant global economy," said Rob McSkimming, the managing director of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski and snowboard school, and vice chair of the TWSSF board of directors.
"Clearly the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival was a bright spot in the 2002-2003 season."
Growing in scope and reputation each year, the TWSSF feature snowsports competitions, live concerts, visual arts events, and off-beat events like the popular dog parade. Although the weather could have been better, the festival was aided by excellent snow conditions following the snowiest March on record for the resort.
While sports are still the main attraction of the festival, McSkimming says that the cultural events have also emerged as leading draws.
"A lot of the festival buzz is about how amazing the music lineup was, and how the festival is, in fact, at the centre of what is happening in the arts scene in this community. The emergence of such events as the Filmmaker Showdown and the energy that it created further emphasized this point," said McSkimming.
According to an independent research study commissioned by festival organizers, the 2003 TWSSF contributed more than $26 million to the resort. The economic impact study analyzed the length of stay and individual spending habits of visitors to Whistler who identified the festival as the prime reason for their stay in Whistler over the 10-day period.
Research also points to a growing awareness of the TWSSF in Canada and abroad. Of the respondents, 56 per cent were Canadian, 20 per cent were from the U.S. and another 24 per cent were from other countries.
Strong corporate backing for the festival has also helped to keep the standard high, with Telus stepping in as the title sponsor for the fifth year in a row.
"We are proud to contribute to the growth and success of the festival now the benchmark and envy of resort properties worldwide," said John Mikkelsen, the assistant vice-president of enterprise event marketing for Telus.
"The (TWSSF) has accomplished more than we could ever have planned through any conventional marketing communications plan."
Telus wasnt the only sponsor happy to be associated with the festival. For the second year in a row, Ripzone sponsored the Ripzone Snowboard Invitational and Garnier-Fructis sponsored the World Skiing Invitational, with Salomon presenting the actual events.
Sony stepped up to sponsor the Pro Photographer Showdown, allowing the organizers to switch from conventional slides to digital projectors. Panasonic sponsored the Filmmaker Showdown. The outdoor concert series was sponsored by DKNY Jeans.
In addition to all the visitors, athletes, musicians and industry representatives that come to Whistler every year, the media was also out in full force. There were close to 340 journalists, photographers and film crews in attendance, representing 115 media outlets from a dozen different countries.
Festival organizers will be producing three half-hour shows to air on Global Television and the Xtreme Sports Network starting in November of 2003. The shows will be placed for a total of 18 hours nationally, and will be syndicated internationally to more than 50 countries.
Event creator and organizer Doug Perry said the festival is well-established, and is no longer simply regarded as a snowsports event.
"Its not just about the sports any more. The festival provides an enhanced and enriched experience in action sports by integrating the music and the arts that support it. This is what sets us apart and what we will continue fostering so that this festival remains unique to the Whistler community."
Organizers are already hard at work on the 2004 TWSSF, with details being released as early as this summer.