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YVR working to get more skiers on Whistler Blackcomb

Whistler’s mayor and council hears update on airport operations in the Lower Mainland
A plane landing at Vancouver International Airport.

Whistler’s Committee of the Whole (COW) heard an update from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on May 2—including what the airport is doing to increase visitation to the resort.

In a presentation to the COW, YVR’s director of government relations Trevor Boudreau highlighted several initiatives currently being undertaken by YVR in coordination with Tourism Whistler and different levels of government to improve connectivity and increase the number of tourists coming to Whistler.

“As we come out of the pandemic and look ahead, we’re doing some amazing work with Tourism Whistler and co-investing into support for, for example, British Airways’ new Gatwick to Vancouver route,” Boudreau said.

In addition to a better connection with London, YVR is actively expanding in Mexico, seeking to attract members of that country’s growing upper-middle class looking for a nearby skiing destination.

“We’re also working with you guys to increase and secure new service from Mexico,” Boudreau said.

“Areas like Monterrey and Guadalajara are emerging tech hubs and have a group of tourists that love to come up and enjoy skiing and in fact spend money. So we think there’s a huge opportunity there.”

YVR also aims to expand connections to areas with high concentrations of Vail Resorts Epic Pass holders in the United States, including places like Boston, New York and the Midwest, as well as to places like South America, where YVR currently lacks connections, Boudreau said.

Mirroring similar trends in Whistler, YVR experienced a surge in passengers in 2022 following the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Between January and August, the airport saw a 168-per-cent increase in travellers, compared to the two- to three-per-cent growth it typically sees in a year. Unsurprisingly, the uptick in travellers presented unique challenges for the airport.

One measure taken to address said challenges was making YVR the first international airport in Canada to be a certified living-wage employer, which, according to Boudreau, helped bring back hundreds of employees who had been “poached” by other, higher-paying employers in Metro Vancouver. Another was implementing the YVR Express service, which allows travellers to schedule their security screening ahead of time, skipping the time-consuming, in-person process.

The airport is also doing significant infrastructure updates, including spending $150 million on cargo facility improvements; opening up greenfield industrial land; acquiring sustainable aviation fuel; and aiming to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.

Councillor Jessie Morden raised a question regarding expanding YVR’s popular Skylynx bus service later into the night, noting that, currently, the last shuttle from the airport leaves at 7:30 p.m., resulting in people with late flights missing the more affordable option to the resort and sometimes requiring people to stay overnight or take a taxi from Metro Vancouver.

According to Boudreau, about 50,000 people use the Skylynx service annually. He confirmed that the airport is encouraging its contractor to improve the service with data on arrivals so that passengers on late flights don’t miss their connection to Whistler.

“So yes, we are [looking at night service]. It’s a business decision that Universal [Coach Line] has to make,” Boudreau said.

“And so we’re there to help give them the information, the data on historical loads and arrival times, so not only can they maybe look to add additional service, but maybe they have to also just tweak the times that they leave based on changes in airlines schedules.”