The 10 th annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival was a welcome addition to a winter season that will be remembered for a strong start, the worst middle in Whistler history, and a strong finale.
For businesses that were suffering through the lowest snowfall in Whistler history, things turned around right on time. March and early April saw about four metres of new snow, which created perfect skiing and snowboarding conditions for the festival. Visitors came out in solid numbers for the snow, the sports and the beefed up arts and entertainment components.
According to Tourism Whistler, hotel stays were up eight per cent during the festival week, April 8-17, compared to the previous year in a month when overall stays were down 25 per cent compared to 2004.
But while hotel stays were up, festival organizers believe the largest increase came from day visitors, who came to watch the lineup of free bands on the main stage, including the String Cheese Incident, Toots and the Maytals, Xavier Rudd, Hot Hot Heat and others.
Research conducted with the British Columbia Institute of Technology found that there were three reasons for the increased traffic increased awareness of festival contest (more than just ski and snowboard events), increased awareness of the free entertainment, and the value of making the trip.
Analyzing the data, organizers estimate an average of 25,000 people per day were in Whistler during the festival, with the number of visitors varying day to day depending on whether it was a weekday or weekend, the weather, and who was playing on the main stage.
BCIT students conducted the survey for Tourism Whistler and W1, which organizes the festival.
Organizers found the largest increase came from the amount of media attention generated by the event, garnering an estimated $7.7 million of media exposure, "a number that blows every year before it out of the water," said W1 founder and president Doug Perry. The amount of media attention was roughly double the previous year, with mainstream exposure in outlets like e-Talk Daily, U.S. Weekly, Rolling Stone and The Globe and Mail.
According to Jen Riley, the media coordinator for W1, it was harder to gauge numbers for this year. As a result, organizers decided to do away with the previous system of measuring visitors.
"In the past pretty much the only way we could estimate (visitors) was through skier visits," she said.
"It was assumed that every one skier visit equaled one person in the village.
"But in the last couple of years we have more of an arts event focus, people who dont necessarily go up the mountain but came to hear a band, so its become almost impossible for us to gauge who was actually here day to day.
"We also cant use hotel occupancy anymore, because there are so many more hotel rooms that the percentage of rooms sold is relative. You could have more rooms booked, but a smaller percentage than the year before.
"It also doesnt take into account the day visits."
According to Riley, skier visits and hotel bookings are still measured, but they no longer tell the whole story. Locals, day visitors, second home-owners and others who regularly enjoy the festival are impossible to count.