Editorial 

Winter forecast: conditions may change rapidly

It will be some time before the implications of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack are fully understood, but the early indications are not promising. While New York and Washington D.C. took the blow head-on, the repercussions are rippling across the continent and around the world, and will be felt even in little resort towns in the mountains.

Not to be alarmist or a forecaster of doom and gloom, but it would seem only prudent for Whistler to be formulating a revised marketing strategy for this winter. In the next month Tourism Whistler will be doing a survey of people’s attitude toward flying and will adjust its strategy if necessary. But even in the week following the attack there are already signs that it will be more difficult to get people to Whistler this winter. Consider:

• Airlines in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Switzerland and France are asking governments for billions in financial aid to stay solvent. Air Canada alone is asking for $4 billion, and says even if it gets that money it will still have to drop some flights. Airlines on both sides of the Atlantic have announced layoffs of thousands of people, which – in addition to hardship for those now without jobs – means fewer flights.

• Boeing has announced it will layoff between 20 and 30 per cent of its commercial airline workforce, approximately 31,000 people. Many of the jobs lost will be in Seattle. The impact is likely to be felt across the city by suppliers and partners of the airplane manufacturer. You only have to spend a few minutes counting the Washington licence plates in Whistler to know that job losses in Seattle will have repercussions here.

• The price of oil is likely to climb as tensions rise in the Middle East, which will also drive up the cost of living.

Of course no one can predict exactly what will happen in the weeks ahead, but around the world people are more nervous than they were on Sept. 10. That usually isn’t conducive to travel of any kind. On Wednesday The Times of London quoted Kieran Daly of the industry journal Flight International saying the fall in air traffic could be worse than during the Gulf War, when passenger numbers in the U.K. fell 28 per cent. "This is not just loss of confidence. It is fear," Daly told The Times .

Britain is Whistler’s largest overseas market, and second largest international market. Our largest foreign market, of course, is the United States.

The flip side of this argument is that Whistler and Canada enjoy reputations as safe places, which in times of uncertainty is particularly appealing to travellers. We can take some solace in this, but the challenge may be to get people to travel at all. Vacations are the first thing people do without in times of trouble. Whether these really are times of trouble is the issue. It’s still too early to know.

However, this may also be an opportunity to re-introduce Whistler to the Lower Mainland and regional markets in the winter. The perception is that some Lower Mainland skiers and boarders who used to come to Whistler are now regulars at Sun Peaks, Big White and other Interior resorts because Whistler has become too big. This winter may be the time to entice those people back to Whistler – it may be an opportunity Whistler can’t ignore.

And if people are reluctant to fly, perhaps Whistler shouldn’t limit its market to skiers and boarders. There are 2 million people in the Lower Mainland, but only a fraction of them have been to Whistler. Maybe they need to be told they don’t have to ski or board to visit.

The forecast for this winter still calls for heavy snow, but visitor forecasts are variable and conditions may change rapidly

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