Whistler businesses heard the comforting ring of their cash registers this weekend with the first wave of American visitors arriving for the U.S. Thanksgiving.
"We had very, very busy weekend," said a jubilant Bernie Duval, manager of Fanatyk Co. Ski and Cycle.
"The snow did bring a lot of people to town and with the weather on Sunday we had a lot of people walking through the village and filling up the store," he said.
When warm mountain temperatures and wet conditions dampened the ski and snowboard activity over part of the weekend, visitors looked to the village for their entertainment instead. Retail stores and restaurants saw strong foot traffic, particularly on Sunday.
One of the biggest attractions was the weird and wonderful Bizarre Bazaar artisan market at the Whistler Conference Centre.
"We counted approximately 5,500 people coming through the doors over the two days," said Magda Kwaterska, Manager of Marketing and Communications for Whistler Arts Council.
"We did have a higher turnout this year for sure," she said.
Bars and restaurants had a fruitful weekend as well; Earl's reported their sales were up by as much as 15 per cent from last year and several other venues confirmed there was a steady flow of traffic over the weekend.
Tourism Whistler reported that the majority of visits were independent travellers, such as couples and families and these visitors were mainly from regional markets. The "book early and save" program has helped strengthen advance bookings, with great snow conditions drawing the regional market for last minute bookings. The official numbers will be released next month.
"In the week leading up to Thanksgiving the room bookings were trending ahead of last year, up by about six per cent," said Breton Murphy, senior manager of communications at Tourism Whistler.
"We are seeing stronger response and growth out of our U.S. destination visitor, which is so important to us. It's positive to see that consumer confidence is adjusting upwards."
Promoting Whistler as a value destination has been key in TW's marketing strategies, offering competitive rates, seasonal specials and early booking discounts. Another part of the value is Whistler being able to offer a variety of activities and non-ski options for visitors. Being able to enjoy time here, whatever the weather, is what sets Whistler apart from many other destinations.
"The big benefit visitors have when they come to Whistler is that they have so much to do," said Murphy
"The reputation of being able to provide an experience to people regardless of weather is really resonating with the visitors."
American visitors were welcomed with fireworks on Thursday night at Skier's Plaza and a free concert featuring rock group Loverboy was held at Olympic Plaza on Saturday night. The events were part of the Whistler Presents program and were funded by the Resort Municipality Initiative. The total cost for the weekend's events was $125,000.
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