Christmas business up on last year 

Managers identify staffing and marketing as ongoing issues

Despite some freezing temperatures and challenging snow conditions a focus on value helped make the Christmas-New Year period a successful one for Whistler.

Several business owners as well as the Marketing VP of Tourism Whistler, Arlene Schieven, reported that business was up on last year, but not back to where it was five years ago.

Christina Moore from Whistler-Blackcomb agreed that business was better this year and highlighted that Whistler-Blackcomb broke a Monday-to-Sunday "skier visit" record over the Christmas/New Year break.

Whistler-Blackcomb has also been able to make mountains of snow since the freeze hit last week, so ski conditions have been improving daily.

Many people also reported that business was better for retailers because the snow conditions motivated some people to shop rather than ski or snowboard.

But despite the generally favourable results, many managers were also confident more could be done to enhance the Whistler experience and promote the resort.

General Manager of the Fairmont Chateau, Paul Tormey, said his hotel enjoyed "the best December" it has had in several years.

"Over the Christmas week we were up three per cent over last year," said Tormey. "We’ve had the best December in total because we had some very good groups (conferences) at the beginning of month."

But Tormey, who is also a director of Tourism Whistler, added that the ongoing success of the resort came down to marketing.

"I think it’s a combination of things – patience is a virtue, but the three things we really need to do is market, market, market," he said. "I personally don’t think that Whistler is as well known, particularly in North America, as we may, from time to time, believe it is.

"I think the competition is fierce, particularly from Colorado but… it’s just a matter of getting more focussed on the marketing if we want to get back to the levels we were at five years ago."

Nikki Bertelli, co-owner of Lululemon, said her store had doubled its sales from last year and she credited those results on the efforts of her staff.

"The best thing about Christmas has been hands down our staff," said Bertelli. "Without them it wouldn’t have been as successful as it was or as busy as it was.

"Our staff are enrolled in the product, they’re educating our customers, they’re living the lifestyle and I think it makes our store an attraction."

Owner of 21 Steps, a new restaurant in Whistler, Gardner Betteridge also spoke of the challenges surrounding staff and the need to prepare them for the Christmas/New Year "onslaught." Betteridge said it was difficult training staff to be ready for the restaurant to be filled to capacity for two full weeks when it doesn’t happen at other times in the year.

"It’s hard to train them when it hits all of a sudden on the 27th," said Betteridge. "During that time you can’t run more customers through, it’s full from the time you open to the time you close, but it’s still about making sure people are leaving satisfied."

Bill Lamond, owner of Wild Willies Ski Club, confirmed that the rental side of the ski business had been down over Christmas due to the conditions. But Lamond said there were still several other issues the resort had to work on.

"Politically, where do we start? The greed that’s infected Whistler is going to be hard to get rid of," said Lamond.

"People need to work to add extra value to everyone’s holiday by being more creative and also praying for snow. We are snow farmers and when it’s snowing it’s a good year for us."

The fact that Christmas was on a weekend this year affected the numbers, according to Lamond, and so did the fact that some other ski areas have had some good snow.

"The skiing wasn’t spectacular and the skiing was good in other places and it doesn’t take much for rich people to fly to Colorado or California instead of here. And it doesn’t take much for the local north-west people to go to the Okanagan instead of here."

Bruce Stewart, general manager of Nesters Market, was happy that the supermarket business had remained steady from last season.

Stewart said one of the problems he is constantly struggling with is guessing what kinds of guests will be filling the resort because that affects what kinds of food Nesters stocks.

"We’re always trying to offer what our customers want for the season and it’s always a bit of a guesstimation about what’s going to be new and hip for that season," said Stewart.

"It’s also about trying to read what tourists are coming through. Are there more Americans or British? Because it’s always good to try and hone in on what they like for Christmas."

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