Whistler will be busy this summer Golf times already maxed By Chris Woodall Six thumbs up from the Royals is just one factor to account for predictions that Whistler's summer — and the winter to follow — will experience huge jumps in visits, says the Whistler Resort Association. "Interest from the United Kingdom after the Royal Visit has gone through the roof," says Craig MacKenzie, acting president of the WRA. That March week-long ski holiday by Princes Charles, William and Harry has translated into enthusiasm for both Whistler's summer and winter seasons, indicating how hosting such a visit can result in major economic dividends. Whistler will be England's green and pleasant land of choice with a forecast of 40 per cent more Brits heading here this summer than dropped by for a cuppa and a look-see last year, WRA stats indicate. Come next winter, 17 per cent more UK visitors are expected to ski and board Whistler than during the season just ended. Those forecasts come after a record-breaking winter during which overall room-nights in Whistler were up 18 per cent over the 1996-97 winter, to 450,000. The 18 per cent jump is the largest percentage increase this decade. The United and the United Kingdom accounted for the largest increases, visits from those countries up 52 per cent and 47 per cent respectively. One result of the mounting attention paid to Whistler's warm months is that golfing in Whistler is already maxing out, say area golf courses. The Whistler Golf Course has no tee-times available for several weekends in the next two months, while the Chateau Whistler Golf Course has weekends booked solid as far away as September. A maximum number of rounds for the Whistler course is 220 now, rising to 340 at the height of summer. Open only three weeks, the course has chalked up more than 10,000 rounds so far on its way to far exceeding the 24,000 total rounds played last year. "The interest in golf here is phenomenal," MacKenzie says. "We're running out of tee-times." The popularity could be a "problem," as capacity fails to meet demand, MacKenzie says. "It's not like a ski hill where you can put on another lift to meet demand," MacKenzie says. The hotels are certainly cheery about this summer's demand. Hotel forecasting reveals "very strong" room night numbers: increases of 29 per cent for May, 38 per cent for June, 32 per cent for July, and 19 per cent in an already peaked August. And say good-bye to the autumn slump. Room night numbers are predicted to shoot up 22 per cent for September, with even a 25 per cent jolt for damp October. WRA room night forecasts have traditionally been more conservative and continue to be for the coming summer, although they still indicate double-digit increases. But there's always that devilish statistic for "per cent total occupancy" that brings a thunderhead to a sun-shiny day. While the hotels say there will be flat growth in per cent occupancy, the WRA's crystal ball shows declines through the summer, averaging 41 per cent occupancy over-all. But then comes winter. Even the occupancy rate looks good for 1998-99, with the WRA predicting a 1 per cent rise to an average 58 per cent from November to April. In terms of room nights, it's more, more, more, with between a 3 per cent boost in rooms sold for April, and 20 per cent more rooms filled in December. Where everyone will come from is interesting. It seems all those Australians who've worked here over the years have been telling the tale back in Oz — and WRA marketing efforts probably helped, too — so that 24 per cent more Aussie visitors may be visiting this winter than last year. Australia is still a relatively small market compared to other single-nation markets, but visits are still visits, balancing off the drop in winter tourists from Japan and Hong Kong. Indeed, a 49 per cent increase in business from the land down under last winter took a little bit off the chill felt in Hong Kong (10 per cent drop in business) and Japan (20 per cent drop). Both Hong Kong and Japan are expected to recover from last winter's blah numbers, posting something in the 7 per cent increase range. The British are expected to continue to liven the place up, with 17 per cent more visits predicted from the UK this winter. Germany's numbers look good, too, with a 26 per cent jump in numbers from a much smaller market.