WRA conferences, telemarketing down By Chris Woodall Whistler Resort Association conference business is a sick puppy, statistics released during the June 13 annual general meeting showed. Although the WRA points to a 12 per cent rise in delegate days this year over 1997, and a 40 per cent rise in revenues for the same period, 1997 generated lower business than any time in the 1990s. In terms of rooms night generated by convention business, there were 29,070 of them last year, the lowest number of the decade, down from a peak of approximately 55,000 nights in 1995. Delegate days, too, were at the lowest level of the 1990s: just 59,356 from a high of more than 130,000 in 1995. WRA staff say the weak numbers are a reflection of the cyclical nature of convention business, but other convention providers in Whistler may have eroded WRA business even further. The WRA admits as much in its report, saying one of its challenges in 1997 was "additional meeting space in Whistler." The Chateau Whistler's Macdonald Ballroom opened in autumn, 1997, providing a convention space as large as the WRA's. The Chateau, however, says it does not compete with the WRA for convention business. Convention business is big business for a resort. Even with its poor numbers, the WRA calculates that what it did get generated an economic impact of $13.35 million for Whistler. In 1995 that impact was about $24 million, WRA statistics show. The WRA's central reservations has seen its numbers plummet as well. There were fewer agent phone calls in summer and winter last year, down 26 per cent from 1995 in the summer, and down 36 per cent from the winter of 1995/96. Gross sales during the summer have dropped, to $4.2 million in 1997 from $5.01 million in 1996, and $5.43 million in 1995. WRA staff say wet weather last year is to blame for the lower level of summer business. Fewer calls also meant gross sales in winter were lower. Although up slightly to $8.1 million in 1997/98 over the winter of 1996/97, last year was $1.22 million less than the winter of 1995/96. "The increased room inventory and competition have caused a decline in calls and reservations and reduced hotel referrals," says the WRA's annual report. Wet weather also hindered business at the WRA-run Whistler Golf Club, with 3 per cent fewer rounds played, but higher greens fees meant the golf course brought in about $234,000 more revenue. Despite the decline in convention room nights and the dollar value of convention business and sales, overall the resort set records this past winter for skier visits and total room nights. Forecasts for visitor numbers and room nights this summer also show substantial increases.