WB breaks financial records three years running 

Strong visits to date, excellent snow conditions, set mountains up for a good season ahead

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BEN CHENOWETH - Worth the wait Skiers and riders flocked to Creekside on Sunday, Dec. 13, to take advantage the fresh snow for one of the best December snow days in recent memory.
  • PHOTO BY Ben Chenoweth
  • Worth the wait Skiers and riders flocked to Creekside on Sunday, Dec. 13, to take advantage the fresh snow for one of the best December snow days in recent memory.

Whistler Blackcomb's 50th year just keeps getting better and the latest reason to celebrate is all about the bottom line.

This week, the company announced a record-breaking financial year for the third year running, with revenue increasing to $262.3 million. That's three per cent higher than last fiscal year, which itself was a record-breaker. The financial year ended on Sept. 30.

The news comes on the heels of Whistler Blackcomb's number one ranking in SKI Magazine, and the resort this week taking the coveted inaugural "top ski destination" award from Travel Weekly, the most influential provider of news, research, opinion and analysis to the North American travel trade marketplace.

"This is a result that we're proud of, especially considering the challenging conditions over the last two seasons," said Dave Brownlie, WB's president and CEO, referring to the strong financials during the early morning conference call before markets opened on Monday, Dec. 14.

"As we look back on our history we're very proud of the resilient business that we have built, which we believe is well insulated against downside risk while being well positioned to deliver steady growth over the long term.

"The passion that contributed to the development of Whistler as one of the top resort destinations in the world is still very much alive today, and we're just as excited about Whistler's future as our founders were 50 years ago."

The financials once again illustrate the increasing importance of summer business, which saw record-breaking numbers of bikers, hikers and sightseers. July, August and September were up 48 per cent this fiscal year. Whistler Blackcomb's ancillary businesses in retail, rental and snow school, all of which were up in the 2015 fiscal year, also allowed the company to weather the storms of poor ski conditions last season, which contributed to a nine per cent decrease in skier visits.

Beyond the balance sheet

The good news doesn't end on WB's balance sheet.

Brownlie said that as of Dec. 7, hotel bookings in Whistler's accommodation sector are pacing three per cent ahead of bookings as of the same time last year, and six per cent ahead of the previous year.

That kind of pre-committed businesses continues to increase year over year.

"So the percentage of pre-booked business into the resort is actually at an all-time-high watermark, which is really positive in terms of setting that business resiliency, which we saw last year," Brownlie explained.

For example, of the skier visits in the 2014/15 season 49 per cent were estimated to be destination guests.

The exchange rate is only going to help that mix this year and Whistler is well positioned to offer strong value for its long-established destination markets out of the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, among others.

"We can see that our destination pre-booked business in terms of our lift products, in terms of our snow school, and in terms of our rental is all tracking a little bit stronger than that overall percentage, so we certainly know that there is, at this point, probably a higher percentage of destination (guests)," said Brownlie.

"What we're particularly pleased with is the last couple of years we haven't really seen the 'in the season, for the season' momentum in our bookings, in particular in the Canadian and the North American market, and I think we're really well positioned to take advantage and capture that as we go into this (season)."

Skier visits down

The year-end good news comes despite a nine per cent drop in skier visits last fiscal year (2014/15) from 1.945 million to 1.770 million.

WB's senior vice president and chief financial officer Jeremy Black touched on a few high-level financial highlights during the press conference this week.While WB's total revenue was up three per cent compared to last year, revenue per visit increased 9.3 per cent year over year, said Black, thanks to higher pricing, stronger guest spending in ancillary business and the acquisition of a new ski and bike rental shop, Summit.

These increases were offset by a 5.7 per cent decease in total visits — skier visits dropped nine per cent, while "other" visits increased to 610,000 up 5.2 per cent.Retail and rental revenue for 2015 increased 16.2 per cent to $54.5 million.

"Retail/rental benefitted mainly from the higher proportion of destination visits during the winter and the acquisition of Summit, which has a meaningful position in Whistler's ski, snowboard and mountain bike retail and rental markets," said Black.

There was also strong growth in snow school business with revenue increasing 6.6 per cent to $29.6 million.

"In addition to benefitting from the increase of destination visitors and higher pricing, our snow school business was able to accept more guests into our Whistler Kids programs this year as we acquired a new location at the Creekside base of Whistler Mountain," said Black.

"We also experienced growth in our summer mountain bike programs."Food and beverage business declined overall by 2.5 per cent mainly due to lower skier visits.

However, the food and beverage revenue was $12.68 per visit, 3.5 per cent higher than last fiscal year.

"Entering the fourth quarter it was very encouraging to see our F&B revenue increase 14.4 per cent while total Q4 visits were essentially flat," said Black. "This was attributable to a number of large group events over the summer."

Summer Results

WB's fourth quarter, covering July, August and September, was up 48 per cent over last fiscal year for adjusted EBITDA to $3.2 million. Total revenue for the quarter was $35.5 million.

"Our summer operation is becoming an increasingly significant part of our business and this year, other visits represented 26 per cent of total visits and our summer revenue comprised of approximately 18 per cent of our year, for the year ended Sept. 30," said Brownlie.

Visits during the fourth quarter were essentially flat from last year with the strength in the mountain bike part visits offset by a decrease in the summer glacier skiing visits.

The heavy smoke from the forest fires in July offset sightseeing visitation and summer glacier skiing was somewhat limited by the low snowpack.

Seasons Passes down slightly

As of Dec. 12 sales of the 2015 season pass and frequency cards had decreased 1.5 per cent to $36.2 million.

The pass prices, said Brownlie, have remained flat with the 2013/14 pricing to recognize the continued loyalty of the regional guests.

"We are pleased our pre-commitment from this market remains very strong," he added.

He attributes the decrease to a slight hangover from the previous year, related to the poor conditions and one-pass category not selling as well as anticipated after WB changed its marketing strategy.

Brownlie added: "We're seeing really strong momentum in the regional market to date and we expect that to continue."

For more detailed information on the financials, go to www.whistlerblackcomb.com.



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