Whistler breaks room night record 

Peak season occupancy declines

Intrawest says skier numbers at Whistler-Blackcomb were down over last year but the number of paid room nights in Whistler broke the 600,000 mark for the first time this past winter season.

Overall, paid room nights for the 2000/01 season rose three per cent to 616,201 from 598,605 in 1999/00, but it wasn’t steady month over month growth. While early season bookings were strong, paid room nights in February dipped three per cent to 115,015 and paid occupancy was down to 79 per cent.

March was up only one per cent and April dropped three per cent to 102,395 paid room nights.

Early in the season Tourism Whistler had predicted a strong five to eight per cent growth for the 2000/01 winter. The November numbers certainly looked good with a 19 per cent increase in paid room nights and December saw an 11 per cent jump over the previous year. January saw six per cent growth but that was end of the upward trend for the season.

Tourism Whistler attributes the February 2001 drop to the fact results are being held up against February 2000, which was such a banner month coming on the back of the December and January millennium travel woes. Travel patterns in the 1999-2000 winter shifted guests from the December-January holiday season into late January, February and March.

The dip in February this year, says Tourism Whistler in its monthly newsletter, was due also in part to heightened competition from Colorado resorts. Steep room rates also likely played a role. "Due to growing price sensitivity within some markets, the increase in room rates may have also contributed to the (February) decline in paid room nights."

The February numbers resulted in room nights for the traditional peak period being down one per cent from 247,773 to 244,684.

The small one per cent growth that came in March was attributed to an increase in visitors from Alberta (up 46 per cent), California (up six per cent), New England (up 21 per cent), the South Atlantic (up 24 per cent), the Nordic countries (up 365 per cent), Australia (up four per cent) and Mexico (up 45 per cent).

April, however, was down again.

Occupancy in the resort for the season was also down three points overall, from 68 per cent in 1999/00 to 65 per cent. Tourism Whistler attributes this to an increase in the number of rooms brought on line with the addition of the new Westin Resort ad Spa.

For example, there were 3,059 rooms available in 1995 compared to 5,355 in 2000 and a projected 5,460 for 2001.

In December occupancy in the resort was at 65 per cent. In January occupancy was 75 per cent, down two points over the previous season. In February occupancy declined 6.3 points from 85 per cent in 1999/00 to 79 per cent. In April, occupancy dropped from 70 per cent to 65 per cent.

While occupancy was down, average winter room rates achieved were up 11 per cent, rising to $250.76 from $226.11 the previous season.

Room rates were at their steepest in February and this may also have contributed to the decline in paid room nights for that month. Rates rose 13 per cent in February to an average of $290.01.

The December rates were up 10 per cent to $260.25 and the January rates were up 13 per cent to $252.92. The cost of rooms in April was up five per cent from $186 in 2000 to $195.89 in 2001.

There was also a decline in Tourism Whistler’s central reservations business, Tourism Whistler president Suzanne Denbak told members at the organization’s annual general meeting, held Wednesday, May 16.

Denbak said the downturn is on the TW radar. "And it’s very much in our discussions internally and with the board of directors to see what can be done to mitigate this."

Denbak is predicting a the a modest three per cent growth for the coming year.

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