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wra forecast

Whistler Resort Association numbers for May and June show what retailers and restaurateurs already knew: business sucked. The WRA recently released occupancy numbers for the summer to date, which showed overall room nights sold for May and June were down 7 per cent from the same period last year. The weather was blamed for the decline. However, the WRA forecast for the entire summer — May through October — is for an increase in room nights sold over last year. The forecast also shows an occupancy rate of 45 per cent, compared to 43 per cent last summer, even though the resort’s room inventory has increased by 7 per cent this year. The WRA’s forecast for July, August, September and October show between 9 and 15 per cent increases each month over the same month last summer. Canadians (56 per cent) and Americans (36 per cent) still make up the vast majority of summer visitors to Whistler, but the European market is growing. An overall increase of 15 per cent is expected from the European market this summer — and European visits were up 115 per cent in May and June. However, total European room nights forecast for the summer — just over 21,000 — are still less than what is forecast for Ontario (just under 30,000). B.C. is the largest single source of room nights in the summer, expected to be nearly 170,000 this year. The WRA’s forecasting system has gone through a number of refinements in recent months and is becoming more precise, providing information on typical days in each month. That information can be used to tailor packages to specific markets to help fill rooms in slower periods, such as mid-week days in early December. At a members’ breakfast meeting earlier this month WRA staff provided a profile of the winter of 1998-99. In addition to the record 2.14 million skier visits Whistler-Blackcomb previously announced, the resort saw a 21 per cent increase in room nights sold and more destination visitors than ever before, with the average visitor staying 5.9 nights compared to 5.7 nights the previous year. Booking through the internet is gaining in popularity, increasing from 3 per cent to 7 per cent of bookings last winter, with 14 per cent of California and Washington visitors using the internet to book a vacation. The proportion of snowboarders to skiers has remained constant in recent years, at about 18 per cent, but snowboarding is much more popular among Japanese visitors (53 per cent) and teens (41 per cent). The profile of Japanese visitors has also changed in the last few years; nearly 80 per cent of the Japanese who came to Whistler last winter were under 35 years old. Snow conditions, affordability and terrain were important factors for people who chose to come to Whistler, while visitors from the Eastern Seaboard said the price of airfare was an important consideration. Word of mouth was the number one reason Eastern Seaboard visitors chose to come to Whistler. It was also the number one reason among UK, Japanese and California visitors, although they did not place as much importance on word of mouth as Eastern Seaboard visitors. Whistler’s number one rating was particularly important to people from the Eastern Seaboard. Whistler received its highest ratings for variety of terrain, overall mountain experience and overall resort experience. Lowest ratings were for arts and culture, family activities and value for money. The low satisfaction levels with value for money were primarily attributed to Canadian and Japanese visitors; American and U.K. visitors were satisfied they were getting value for money. Access to Whistler used to be high on visitors’ list of suggestions for improvement but is less of a factor now. The WRA’s forecast for the winter of 1999-2000 shows an 8.5 per cent increase in overall room nights sold, but with the Westin hotel opening up the occupancy levels for the winter are only expected to increase 1 per cent, from 63 to 64 per cent. Winter bookings through the WRA’s central reservations office are already up 10 per cent from what they were at this time last year. In future years, the annual occupancy level is expected to continue at approximately 55 per cent (mid-40s in the summer; mid-60s in the winter), and the number of room nights sold is expected to increase steadily, topping 1 million for the first time in 2000-2001

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