U.S. visits may drop another 15 per cent 

Preparations, messaging could mean regional market sees growth this winter

click to enlarge Skier Visits A decline in U.S. and U.K. visitors is being forecasted for this season, but Tourism Whistler is optimistic that losses can be offset by targeting our regional market. Photo by Scott Brammer, www.coastphoto.com
  • Skier Visits A decline in U.S. and U.K. visitors is being forecasted for this season, but Tourism Whistler is optimistic that losses can be offset by targeting our regional market. Photo by Scott Brammer, www.coastphoto.com

While the actual size and scope of the U.S. economic meltdown is being debated on Wall Street, there is a general agreement among economists that the U.S. is, at minimum, heading into a serious recession, no matter how big the government rescue/bailout.

What it means for Whistler, which relies heavily on visitors from the U.S., is unknown, but Tourism Whistler and its partners are not taking any chances.

“If you look at what’s going on in the States right now, which is one of the issues we’ve been watching and monitoring for a number of years, and the softness in the economy… I feel good about the fact that we have long and mid-term strategies,” said Breton Murphy, manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler. “We’re somewhat prepared for that kind of volatility, but also dynamic enough to say, okay, this is the new reality, what can we be doing in the shorter term?”

Last winter, 2007-08, Whistler saw an overall decline in U.S. visitors of roughly 15 per cent over the previous winter. Tourism Whistler has not completed its forecast for this coming winter, but Murphy says declines could be 15 per cent once again.

While other markets picked up the slack last year, especially the U.K. and Australia, Murphy says we can’t count on visitors from Europe, with the British pound losing traction and similar economic concerns building across the Atlantic.

This week, Dutch bank Fortis had to be nationalized to prevent its collapse.

While the economy may look bleak, Murphy says Tourism Whistler is still optimistic that they will see some growth in the regional market, B.C. and Washington state, as well as some growth or stability in the domestic market as the dollar drops and fewer Canadians travel abroad on vacations. Visits from Ontario are expected to drop, with problems in manufacturing industries and Bay Street financial district, but Murphy says that generally Canadians choose to vacation at home during periods of recession.

He also says that the latest crisis has not caught Whistler unprepared.

In the last seven years the resort has weathered the impacts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the resulting recession, a surging Canadian dollar, rising fuel prices, new passport requirements, airline failures and price hikes, one of the worst winters on record ( 2004-05), the wettest and coldest summer in decades (2007), highway closures and more.

“Never underestimate the power of this resort and our membership to respond,” said Murphy. There is an all-members meeting on Oct. 9 to discuss the upcoming winter season. Whistler businesses have already responded with new deals and packages, like Book Early and Save, and a deal that would give visitors two nights and two days skiing for under $200, or four nights for under $400.

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