Tourism numbers up in Whistler and province wide 

Provincial government updates tourism strategy

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER - Heading up Summer growth numbers show August 2015 was the busiest on record.
  • Photo BY Mike Crane/Courtesy of Tourism Whistler
  • Heading up Summer growth numbers show August 2015 was the busiest on record.

Even though Whistler is already staring down October, the summer of growth just keeps on rolling.

Hot off the proverbial presses comes Tourism Whistler's (TW) latest round of stats, which shows August 2015 as the busiest August on record.

"What is really significant about August 2015 is that it replaced February 2010 (when Whistler hosted the Winter Olympics) as Whistler's busiest month, in terms of paid room nights," said Patricia Westerholm, TW's manager of communications.

"Large conference groups, festivals and holidays helped to lift room nights in August. One in four room nights booked in August 2015 were conference and group room nights."

By this point, ever-increasing numbers of tourists flocking to Whistler is hardly front-page news, but it's not just Whistler that's seeing growth in its visitor numbers.

On September 21, provincial tourism minister Shirley Bond announced that province-wide visitor numbers have been rising as well. There were an additional 72,085 visitors in July 2015 compared to the same month last year — a 9.9 per cent increase.

"The growth in international visitor numbers shows our plan is working," Bond said. "I'm confident that our strategies are going to keep the momentum going and with Destination BC as a partner we can be sure that every region of the province benefits."

To ensure that the momentum continues, the government has updated its provincial tourism strategy, Gaining the Edge: 2015-2018.

The updated strategy refocuses its goals for the coming years, looking at actions that can be taken in all areas of the industry.

Some of the action items will be of direct interest to Whistlerites, like a focus on enhancing mountain resorts, support for long-term adventure tourism leaseholders, a commitment to enhancing transportation and greater investments in cycling infrastructure.

The complete report can be found at www.jtst.gov.bc.ca/tourismstrategy.

Also on Sept. 21, the ministry of transportation announced $6 million in BikeBC funding for 25 communities throughout the province.

The announcement comes at a time when governments are starting to realize the tourism potential of all forms of cycling — Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently announced $100 million over four years to improve his own state's cycling infrastructure.

According to TW, a Whistler-based research project is currently underway.

"Mountain biking is a significant part of Whistler's summer experience; it is a growing segment and an important economic driver for the resort. As such, we want to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the current product, as well as the potential," Westerholm said.

In the summer of 2014, 12 per cent of visitors to the resort biked in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, while nine per cent biked on other non-paved cross-country trails.

"The Mountain Bike Tourism Study, which is currently in progress, will engage with these riders during their biking activity and help measure the importance of mountain biking as an economic driver for the resort, and increase the understanding of mountain biker behaviour and demographics," Westerholm said, adding that research began in June 2015 and will continue into October.

The final report is expected in early winter.

Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcomb's vice president of business development, said the financial support for biking in the province's revised tourism strategy sounds optimistic.

"I think the product that has been developed for mountain biking here is amazing, and I'm optimistic that it is being talked about and looked at (by the province), and there is huge opportunity there to expand on the investment," McSkimming said.

"I know the quality of the experience we have here versus most other places in the world, and I know that it is the best that there is. I know that when you add to that Vancouver and the rest of B.C. we are talking about having an edge."

Mountain biking in Whistler will likely never be the resort's main draw, but there is room for expansion, McSkimming said.

"Skiing... and winter is still prime time for us for sure," he said.

"Mountain biking is certainly a critical component of our growth. But whether it is mountain biking, or hiking, or sightseeing, or other forms of activity on the mountain that are non-skiing based, it is definitely something we are interested in continuing to expand, and we are also looking at other opportunities that are out there."

- with files from Clare Ogilvie

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