Winter '97 puts last year to shame WRA stats show double-digit growth By Chris Woodall This winter's ski season continues to show strong improvement over last year, say the most recent statistics in a Whistler Resort Association activity report. "The number of room nights generated in December ('96)was up 13 per cent compared to last December ('95)," says the report, released to WRA lodging sector property managers, Wednesday. The last month of the year's numbers repeated the strong recovery in November, year-to-year, that showed a 15 per cent rise in room nights generated above November '95. However, Whistler's occupancy rates tell a different story, reflecting additional rooms available this season. What that means is, more people are coming to Whistler, but there are even more rooms to fill than there are visitors to occupy them. Occupancy dropped by 8 per cent in both November and December, year-to-year, between '94 and '95, with November ending up at 22 per cent occupancy in November '95 and at 60 per cent for December '95. November '96 held steady at 22 per cent occupancy, but December '96 dropped 2 per cent to 58 per cent occupancy. For the next few months, occupancy rates are projected to drop from last year's rates by 1-7 per cents. Many retailers and restaurateurs — and there are more of them this year, too — say sales so far this winter reflect the declining occupancy rates. In other words, the pie (the number of visitors) is marginally bigger but it is getting cut into smaller and smaller pieces as (there are more retailers and restaurateurs). However, the WRA’s forecasted figures show some promise. January room nights are expected to be 12 per cent more than last year; February is pegged to be 5 per cent busier; March is expected to be 4 per cent more active; and April is forecast to have a 13 per cent increase. Those rooms cost marginally more, too. "Achieved room rates" rose 3 per cent (to $92.18) and 15 per cent (to $197.10) for November and December between winter '95 and winter '96. But where November "achieved room rates" rose a further 8 per cent from Nov. '95 to Nov. '96, to $99.51, they only crept up half a per cent between Dec. '95 and Dec. '96 to $198.15. Achieved room rates are the rates visitors actually paid, as opposed to a hotel's rates that have yet to be discounted for one reason or another. It may not mean that room rates are going up, but that Whistler's hotels can sell their rooms closer to the full price, as opposed to discounting them just to put bodies in rooms.