The Olympic aversion effect - visitors tending to avoid cities and mountain resorts hosting the Games because of concerns about costs and construction - is very real, and has been well-documented in host destinations for decades.
Whistler Blackcomb is aware of the issue and is entering the season with adjusted expectations, and has taken steps to size their workforce accordingly. However, Whistler Blackcomb is not conceding anything yet, and over the summer has invested in a wide variety of upgrades and improvements not necessarily related to the Olympics, from summer grooming to allow runs to open with less snow to significant upgrades to snowmaking.
They also kicked off the season by offering the lowest early bird season pass prices in a decade - down to $1,099 from $1,529 last season - as well as discounts on everything from Spirit passes to Edge Cards.
"We've been quite successful with our season pass initiatives, and at this point we've sold more passes than we sold in the prior year," said Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Whistler Blackcomb.
"We talked a lot about value and the people who are our most loyal guests, and we came up with a better price point... recognizing that it's going to be a challenging year in some ways, there would be access challenges and parking challenges. But our pass holders are connected to the resort, and will find ways to utilize public transportation and get to the lifts."
Whistler Blackcomb is pushing the message that it is 100 per cent open before and after the Games, and that 90 per cent of terrain on Whistler and Blackcomb is open during the Games. But there are some real challenges, with access to the day skier lots in the Village and Creekside limited through the season and closed off completely from Feb. 1 to March 26. The Creekside Gondola will be closed to the public from Feb. 1 to March 1, and there will be priority loading for Paralympic athletes until March 26.
The resort will be at, or close to, capacity during the Olympics and Paralympics, although many of those visitors won't be here to ski or snowboard. Rempel said efforts are being made to attract those visitors up the mountains.
"It would be a shame if people came here from around the world and didn't get to experience why Whistler is the number one resort in the world," said Rempel.
"For people who come to Whistler but don't have time to go skiing... we will be pushing Peak 2 Peak and the whole on-mountain sightseeing experience, we have special deals on rentals and all kinds of special offers for people that want to come up for a day or two. Also, we're seeing a lot of Games-related groups like sponsors coming in and booking instructors, lessons and lift packages, and equipment packages as well because there will be people here that want to ski but maybe didn't bring their skis with them."
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