A winter of change 

Visitor demographic as different from the norm as the weather

The official end-of-season numbers are not in yet but by all accounts, business in Whistler was not bad this past winter despite sub-standard snow conditions.

While it wasn’t a banner year, Whistler-Blackcomb expects to comfortably exceed the two million skier visit mark for the third season in a row and merchants report that hotel room nights were up over last winter.

"I think everybody was pretty happy with the season," said Rick Clare who is chair of Whistler’s Core Commercial Committee and a Tourism Whistler board member.

The unseasonal weather did, however, alter the shopping patterns of some guests and while room nights may have been up through the winter, the cash didn’t necessarily trickle all the way down into the retail sector.

Clare suspects that more rooms may have been rented to fewer people. So while hotel occupancy was up, there may actually have been less bodies in the resort.

"Right now, from Tourism Whistler’s perspective, what we are trying to do is track how many people are in the rooms," he said.

The hotel guests may have been high-end, noted Clare, but they were not necessarily high-yield from a retail perspective. He said some guests seemed to be going from their rooms straight to dinner and back without strolling or shopping. They have been dubbed by merchants as the "rich, famous and paranoid."

"There is a change in demographic for sure." Clare said the market will have to adjust in order to tap into this spending potential.

For restaurateur John Grills, business was up this season over the previous winter. He too felt there were generally fewer people coming through his two restaurants but those who did come spent more, particularly over the Easter period.

Bob Adams, chamber of commerce president, thinks guests may be shelling out so much for hotel rooms they could be skimping on the shopping and dining experience. "I have heard that some people didn’t have as good a year as they expected," noted Adams of chamber members. "Some of the comments were that the price of accommodation was so high that there were not a lot of expendable dollars around. That is the main thing I have heard."

However, Adams said his Grocery Store business was up over last winter. "I think perhaps people weren’t going out that often for dinner and they were buying more groceries," he said. "Secondly, the Westin was full on stream and that put more people in our local proximity.

The sunshine also kept skiers on the mountains longer in the day, which meant less shopping time in the village.


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