Whistler hotels experienced their lowest occupancy in four years in the first quarter of 2011.
"Trends in the Hotel Industry," a report compiled by Vancouver-based PKF Consulting and commissioned by the BC Hotel Association, shows that Whistler's hotel occupancy dipped to 64.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, the busiest time of the year for Whistler.
That represents an 8.3 per cent drop from the Olympic year and a 7.6 per cent drop from 2009, the year after the stock market collapsed and the world slipped into recession.
Barrett Fisher, the president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, said the numbers cited in the PKF are consistent with the organization's own data, though its research covers numbers across the whole resort while, according to her, PKF deals with a smaller sample size.
PKF would not disclose its sample size but a spokeswoman said it was close to Tourism Whistler's.
"Whistler didn't experience the worst of the economy due to being buoyed by the Olympic Games," she said. "So it really wasn't until the winter of 2010/2011 (that) Whistler saw the lowest point to date ... from a downturned economy. At that point the full effect of the recession had hit."
Occupancy isn't the only variable seeing a drop, according to the PKF report. Revenue per available room also fell in 2011's first quarter, to $153.41 from $243.47 in the Olympic year and $186.38 in 2009.
The average daily rate, meanwhile, representing the average rate per occupied room in the first quarter, was $236.78 in 2011, down from $333.15 in the Olympic year and $257.30 in 2009. That decline indicates that hotels are charging less for rooms in Whistler.
James Chase, the chief executive officer of the BC Hotel Association, said the report shows an increasing pressure on hotel revenues.
"What's well documented, I think, is that the long-haul customer has a different spending profile than the short-haul customer," he said. "In the simplified factor, short-haul versus long-haul, you get different spending patterns, you get different results."
Statistics compiled by Tourism British Columbia indicate that the province overall is capturing fewer long-haul customers and more tourists from regional markets, like from within B.C. and Alberta.
A table provided to Pique shows that between 2006 and 2009, the number of visitors from the United States to B.C. has dropped from 3,518,148 to 2,899,309, a drop of 17.6 per cent. The table also shows that visitors from the Asia Pacific region and Europe have dropped by 18 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively.
At the very same time, British Columbia is seeing more visitors from within Canada. The number of inter-B.C. visitors between 2006 and 2009 has gone up by 7.7 per cent and the number of visitors from Alberta has risen by 41.3 per cent.
"The frequency of the short-haul is greater and their spend pattern is less than the long-haul who will come once and for a longer duration and spend more per day," Chase said. "The foreign or long-haul visitor is highly sought-after because of that specific reason, because in order to get the same head count, you'd need a lot more foreign, long-haul people to make up for the regional."
The reason, Chase said, that places like Whistler are having trouble attracting long-haul visitors is that Canada as a country is losing market to international destinations like Rome, Paris and London. He said there are more people making enough money to travel, they're just not coming to Canada as much as other places.
"Many of the people have already been here before, that's one factor," Another, said Chase, is the attraction places like Rome and Paris have to the increasing number of travellers from countries such as India.
"...You're going to go to Italy, Rome, Paris, all those iconic destinations before you go to Canada," he said.
"We're in the process of changing the image of Canada from moose, Mounties and mountains to a more diverse, attractive, multicultural experience.
"You can do almost anything in Canada that you can do almost anywhere else in the world, but just getting that message out is extremely challenging, given the globally-competitive marketplace and all our other competitors."
Hotels in Whistler are seeking various means to adapt to a lagging industry.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is offering a "Sea to Sky Secret" special for the shoulder season, with $99 nights based on double occupancy for residents of Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.
"We're obviously lowering our rates during our need periods," said Jennifer Tice, PR manager at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. "In Whistler we've got months where there's a challenge and this is a way to address that challenge."
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