December tourists avalanche into Whistler Hotels say next four months look great, too By Chris Woodall The building boom in Whistler has overtaken an avalanche of visitors into the resort, statistics and forecasts from the Whistler Resort Association say. And a unique report currently under development will showcase how well Whistler's retail industry does. The good news is that 14 per cent more room nights were sold in December than in the same month in 1996. The off-putting news is that all those eager skiers and snowboarders still meant an over-all decline of 2 per cent in the December occupancy rate, because of the vast number of rooms available this year compared to last winter. Forecasts for the coming months shows the same sort of pattern. Hoteliers are predicting eye-popping increases in visitor nights (against the 1996-'97 season numbers) of a whopping 37 per cent for January, 25 per cent in February, 17 per cent in March and 26 per cent in April. Yet a look at occupancy rates that will result show nice increases of 8 per cent for January, and a not bad increase of 3 per cent in February, but decreases of 5 per cent in March and 1 per cent in April. Whistler has 4,302 units available to lodgers as of Dec. 31, 1997, up more than 700 units from a year ago. The hotel forecasts are enthusiastic when seen beside the more conservative crystal ball gazing of the WRA. The resort association is predicting room nights generated for January to April as: 11 per cent increase, 7 per cent increase, even-steven, and a 4 per cent dip in April. If the WRA numbers pan out, they will mean a 5 per cent lower occupancy rate for January, a 9 per cent slide in February, a 17 cliff dive in March and a 13 per cent plunge in April. "Hotel numbers tend to be on the high side," says Arlene Schieven, the WRA's manager of research. They may have "insider" bookings information that gooses their forecasts that's not available to the WRA, Schieven explains. "If we get something in between the two, it will still mean we've done well," Schieven says. As for the difference in room nights sold and total occupancy, "it's a good illustration of what Whistler needs to do to maintain its occupancy numbers," Schieven says. Hoteliers have been concerned that they don't get into a pricing war just to fill rooms. They seem to have averted that with statistics showing average room rates discounting slightly November to November (and last year's ski season started off early) by 4 per cent to $95.96 a night, but holding steady at $197.86 when matching December ’96 against December ’97. "Over-all this is a good news picture," Schieven says. The WRA is working on a similar economic report for Whistler's retail world. "We have a project in the works," to determine how well sales are going by collecting stats on GST revenues, Schieven says. The more sales made, the larger the GST amount generated. The report would be divided into retail sectors. "Clothing stores would be compared to clothing stores (for example) but without identifying individual stores," Schieven explains. The new report should be ready "in a few months," the research manager says.