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Yokoso! (Welcome!)

A photo says a thousand words and a local photographer has a website full of welcomes to share with the land of the rising sun

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It would be a 1992 photograph of skier Scott Schmidt dropping a huge cliff that would inspire a young Japanese man by the name of Toshi Kawano to eventually make his journey to Whistler.

Fifteen years later, it is ironically Toshi who is inspiring his fellow countrymen to visit Whistler through his own photographic work and a relatively new project dubbed “WHISTLERnavi”.

A professional photographer for the last 10 years, Toshi started by gracing the pages of several action sports magazines, including Transworld Snowboarding and SBC Skier. His work has been used in advertisements for such companies as Adidas, Quicksilver and Dynastar, along with a plethora of Japanese based publications and companies.

Shifting his focus to commercial photography, Toshi is now best known for his work for Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and Tourism B.C. His children have practically become the face of the Whistler Kids program.

Looking to become the bridge between Whistler businesses and the Japanese market, Toshi and Vancouver-based business partner Shinobu Kojima launched a website by the name of WHISTLERnavi.com last October.

For the Japanese, the Internet and brochures are the most important factors in making a decision about where to visit. According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, the percentage of Japanese travelers who consider the Internet to be among the most important sources of information for trip planning has grown nine-fold since 2000.

At first glance the Japanese market for Whistler may seem far from what it was 15 years ago, before the great economic “bubble” burst. Surprisingly though, Japan, a country of roughly 130 million people, still remains the third largest group of foreign visitors to B.C., behind only our neighbours to the south and the U.K. And the Japanese are the fourth largest group of tourists to visit Whistler.

Of Canada’s 386,000 Japanese visitors in 2006, 55.8 per cent entered directly into B.C. making up 4.5 per cent of B.C.’s total international customs entries, or 25.1 per cent of all Asia/Pacific customs entries to B.C. Japan is the largest Asia/Pacific market to our province and the country as a whole.

Although winter visitations to Whistler over the last five years have at times been inconsistent, a growing and relatively new trend is strong Japanese numbers in the summer, with 2005 being the strongest on record according to Tourism Whistler. Summer numbers from Japan are now roughly one-third of winter visitation, which is great news for local business.

Toshi and Shinobu hope to inform Japanese visitors of the sights and activities available in our mountain town and bridge the gap for local companies, where things can often get lost in translation. As Toshi says, “We have a great destination here in Whistler and I would like to see more Japanese visitors to come and enjoy the very place we call home.”

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