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WRA numbers

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The king is dead, long live the king Not quite, but summer business almost equals winter, WRA numbers show By Chris Woodall Whistler's summer room nights cracked the 300,000 mark for the first time, say Whistler Resort Association figures, pushing summer business to 45 per cent of the annual total. The season ending (May to October) total, at 317,434, represents a 9.4 per cent boost over 1996. But even though it appears the green season is catching up to and ready to overtake King Winter, Barrett Fisher says not to get too excited. "In the long term we'll eventually see greater numbers of summer visitors than in winter, but they don't stay as long as the winter visitor, so the spending spin-off is not as great," says the WRA's director of marketing. One day and one day soon, summer will wear the crown. "Summer visits continue to increase and will continue to be a strong season," Fisher says, noting that while skiers and boarders make up a mere 5 per cent of the total American, and 8 per cent of the Canadian, population, there's a potential 100 per cent of both markets who could be enticed to come to Whistler to walk, bike, hike, or simply goof around on the beach. Ontarians seem to have developed a love affair with Whistler. While the Canadian market as a whole saw 15 per cent more folks saunter through the village this summer than last year, the Ontario market has gone from 19,000 room nights in 1996 to 28,000 this year. Ontario now moves into second spot as source of choice. The U.S. market slid a bit, dropping 2 per cent from last year's numbers. Big drops in visits from Washington and Oregon were offset a tad by a 6 per cent increase in escapees from California road rage and "strong" increases from new markets in Texas and Arizona. Europeans, especially Germans and Brits, love Whistler. An over-all European increase of 9 per cent was led by a burly German invasion 62 per cent larger than last year's numbers. One interesting difference between German and British visitors is that the former tend to want soft adventure and touring vacations, while the islanders favour nothing quite as aggressive but more scenic in the order of lakes and mountain views. Economic woes percolating through Japan may have caused a decline in numbers from Japan, WRA statistics show, but you couldn't deny Whistler to the rest of the Asia/Pacific market, resulting in a 6 per cent hike in visitors from there. A bright spot from Japan is being able to tap into the Osaka region rather than Tokyo, Fisher says. "It's a newly developing market for us with Air Canada access. There's a real eagerness and enthusiasm for travel and access to B.C." Golf will play a more important role in attracting tourists, especially the high rollers, but Whistler can fill in the shoulder season gaps if it can come up with more Cornucopia-style events, Fisher says. "They show we're more than just a ski resort," Fisher says. "It's a time of year when people are looking for a certain amount of escapism." Hmmm: Can anyone spell "cultural centre"?

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