After several years of exponential growth in most areas — skier visits, room nights, occupancy rates, construction — 1996 shows every indication that many of things have peaked, at least temporarily.
The skier visits for the winter just past are down — projected at 1,727,000 — from last year’s record 1,775,257. Total room nights are up 6 per cent over last winter, but that doesn’t keep pace with the number of new rooms built in the last year. Total rounds of golf were up 15 per cent last summer over 1994, but that was due to Big Sky being open for a full season and Nicklaus North being open for the tail end of the season; the Chateau and Whistler Golf Clubs were down. Conference business for the first three months of 1996 is down compared to the same period last year, although that is generally attributed to the cyclical nature of the conference business.
And the signs so far this summer are not overly encouraging. There’s the weather, of course, which is a bigger factor in determining summer visits than winter visits. There’s also the matter of the mid-week highway closures in the Cheakamus Canyon, expected to last until mid-August. The Second Narrows bridge repairs and subsequent hassles trying to get from Vancouver to the North Shore haven’t helped either. For campers, there are camp sites and places to park RVs, but at the moment they aren’t up to the standard one would expect of the resort. Then there’s the assumption among some visitors to the village the last few years that Whistler has only three seasons: winter, shoulder and construction.
Looked at as a whole, 1996 doesn’t appear to be the best year to open a business in Whistler, yet the number of new businesses this winter and summer mirrors the fantastic pace of construction. All those businesses are competing for the attention of visitors who are, at the moment, having a harder time getting hear and seeing Whistler under less than ideal conditions.
All of which doesn’t mean that Whistler is on the slippery slope to mediocrity or recession. There have been several anomalies this year — the weather, the Quicksilver accident, the rock slide — to account for some of the slowdown. But other signs indicate that Whistler’s mercurial growth rate is going to flatten out. We — the resort, the municipality, businesses and individuals — should see this as the next phase in Whistler’s development and should plan accordingly.