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Weather, war, and economic warts combine to make this one of Whistler's most challenging seasons recently

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Whistler-Blackcomb also realized fewer than hoped for skier visits.

But it expects to just exceed the numbers seen two years ago.

"Overall our season looks like it did two years ago in terms of visits," said Stuart Rempel, vice president of sales and marketing for Whistler-Blackcomb.

"We will easily exceed two million visits again."

According to statistics form the Canadian Tourism Commission overnight travel from the U.S. to Canada decreased by 4.9 per cent over February 2002 with decreases in both automobile (-5.4 per cent) and non-automobile modes (-3.8 per cent).

In B.C. tourism business is worth $9.3 billion, making it third among B.C. industries. The U.S. contribution to that is $2.4 billion, making it easily the largest segment of our international tourist trade.

But most expect the U.S. spending figure to go down as travellers are affected by world-wide events and the soft economy. In 2001, the most recent year for which data is available, spending by Americans on foreign travel, which had been rising, fell 13 per cent to $10.4 billion.

According to Travel Industry Association’s War Impact Survey, 71 per cent of Americans are not interested in travelling overseas; 31 per cent say that it is a direct result of the war and the weak economy.

However a significant exception to that is a strong attractiveness rating for travel to Canada, seen as a safe, friendly destination.

Travellers are continuing to book trips much closer to departure dates, which also challenges many organizations and businesses as they struggle to staff appropriately.

According to the same survey of 1,200 online Americans between March 20 and 25, more than one-quarter of business travellers will be travelling less or not at all compared to last year.

There are no destination resorts which have not been affected by global issues in the last few months. But it is hoped that Whistler can draw back business and grow by focusing on offering activities, service and surroundings that capitalize on some of the emerging needs of the tourist in today’s world.

Recent research has shown that travellers are not going to stop travelling in the mid- to long-term. But many are looking for a true escape back to nature and a holiday which renews their sense of adventure and/or their desire to renew their family values.

Whistler is ideally situated to offer those things.

"This is a place to get away from it all," said Rempel.

"Mountains have always been very spiritual places and we hope this environment is conducive to that feeling."