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Whistler seeing positive start to winter

Forecasts down compared to Olympic year, but better than previous season



With the U.S. Thanksgiving Weekend, large quantities of snow and the opening of Blackcomb, the first post-Olympic winter season truly got underway in Whistler last weekend. Despite continued concern about the economy and a tendency for guests to book at the last minute, visitor numbers were generally positive.

Tourism Whistler won't have any numbers for several weeks, but according to Breton Murphy, the senior manager of communications, the anecdotal evidence so far suggests that it was a good start.

"In terms of feedback, anecdotally, definitely the early snow and the World Cup (bobsleigh and skeleton) contributed to some visitation," he said.

Call volumes to are down, Murphy says, but it's difficult to compare to last year when they were receiving numerous calls related to the Olympics. This year he says calls are generally from people who want to visit Whistler, and the number of sales per call is higher.

Jim Douglas, general manager for the Pan Pacific hotels, said the numbers were encouraging.

"I don't know if it was better than we expected, but from a guest relations standpoint it was pretty spectacular and our guests had an amazing time," he said.

Douglas said they were close to full on Saturday and through Friday and Saturday they were at roughly 85 per cent occupancy - a little better than the last few U.S. Thanksgiving long weekends.

However, guests only stayed for an average of two nights instead of three or four, shorter than in the past - something Douglas says shows that the economy is still struggling.

Going forward, Douglas says they are cautiously optimistic.

"We're encouraged with how we're looking for Christmas week and we have some business out of Australia - although we continue to be concerned with the U.S. market. To that end we're thrilled with the some of the recent marketing by Tourism Whistler and the big push in the U.S. - like the big TV ad campaign that was in the San Francisco Bay area.

Douglas also gave high marks to Whistler Blackcomb. While there was only limited terrain he said the skiing experience impressed a lot of guests all the same.

"I went up and did a sight tour of the mountains with VIPS on Sunday, and after four years in Whistler I continue to be encouraged and amazed by the quality of workmanship at Whistler Blackcomb," he said. "The guest service was impeccable. They had people brushing snow off the benches of the gondola, they were friendly and said hi to everyone, the food was good. If the resort continues to focus on those things, and focus on the road and transportation connectivity, it's going to be very good. Nothing can replace people going home and being ecstatic about their stay."