Forecast: Increasing competition 

Tourism Whistler says the resort can’t afford to rest on its laurels

Now is the time to take a careful look at pricing strategies and to be extra sensitive to the needs of our guests, because "newness" and first-time trials will not sustain Whistler’s growth.

This is one of the messages to come out of the Tourism Whistler business plan for 2001 which was presented at the organization’s third annual open house, held Thursday, Feb. 15.

"There is growing concern regarding the overall sustainability of Whistler’s success," reads the business plan summary. "Whistler is reaching a point in its evolution where it must become more sensitive to the guest experience."

Simply put, the resort can no longer rest on its laurels.

A couple of factors led the tourism organization to this conclusion: There is growing and fierce competition coming from Colorado, which wants to re-capture its share of the skier pie. There is increased competition from Utah resorts, which now have the added allure of being 2002 Winter Olympic venues. And, in addition to the Games cachet, Utah resorts are garnering increasing consumer interest through improved infrastructure and competitive pricing strategies.

According to the Tourism Whistler report, this heightened competition presents even more of a challenge when combined with a local room inventory that has grown exponentially over the last seven years – one that seems to be outstripping the annual increases in the number of guests leading to a flat, or declining occupancy levels.

For example, there were 3,059 rooms available in 1995 compared to 5,355 in 2000 and a projected 5,460 for 2001.

On top of that, Whistler is losing its price advantage.

To mitigate the financial effects of decreased occupancy levels, room rates have climbed and Tourism Whistler says care must now be taken to offset any market backlash arising from these increases, particularly in the shoulder seasons of May through June and October through November.

A trend in late bookings is also appearing in most markets.

This all comes against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty and the associated exchange rate fluctuations have caused a softening of several of Whistler’s traditional markets. There is concern over a weakening U.S. economy and the U.K. economy is flattening after years of buoyant growth. Canada’s exchange rate advantage in both the German and Australian markets has also softened. This, "combined with strong average rate increases has, in some cases, compromised Whistler’s advantage relative to U.S. resorts."

Tourism Whistler itself is also faced with growing expectations from members and limited funding. According to the report, member fees will stabilize in the next two to three years as the construction of new accommodation grinds to a halt. "Consequently, alternative sources of funding must be secured to permit Tourism Whistler to make the needed investments to generate growth for the resort. "Historically, there has been a clear and immediate payback from investment in marketing and other promotion in targeted markets. If this funding is not accessed, Tourism Whistler’s ability to generate incremental growth will be limited."

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