Government report confirms the spring of 2003 was the worst of times for tourism 

A Statistics Canada report released this week confirmed what most already know.

Tourism in Canada took a record-setting downturn in the second quarter because of the SARS outbreak and other global events.

The investigation found that tourism spending plummeted 4.3 per cent from the first quarter – the largest quarterly decline since Statistics Canada began recording National Tourism indicators in 1986.

Those results were mirrored in Whistler.

"We saw decreases that we have never seen before (in the second quarter)," said Barrett Fisher, interim president of Tourism Whistler.

"Whistler has seen double digit growth for 10 to 12 years in a row and even post September 11 th , really our numbers were flat or slightly down.

"So it really was not until the second quarter of 2003 where Whistler too saw some dramatic decreases."

The Statistics Canada report also found the biggest hit to tourism spending was the significant decline (14 per cent) in the number of international tourists.

Across the country tourism spending dropped to $12.2 billion, $1.2 billion below its peak in the fourth quarter of 2000.

Because fewer international tourists came to Canada during the second quarter the domestic share of total tourism spending rose to 70 per cent.

Tourism employment also fell 2.4 per cent, to 572,000 jobs, after the flat first quarter.

Initially the decreases seen in Whistler were a result of the outbreak of war in Iraq. Then SARS hit Canada and individual and meetings and corporate travellers began to cancel. Add to that a soft U.S. economy and tourism was doomed in the spring.

Summer was still a challenge, especially with the conference centre closed but, said Fisher, as August and the good weather continued numbers began to climb and the resort reached bookings levels similar to last year.

Most of the bookings were regional.

That was a trend Tourism Vancouver saw as well.

"We certainly were hard hit in the second quarter," said Paul Vallee, vice-president of Tourism Vancouver.

"We were down in the neighbourhood of 10 to 15 per cent."

But things began to look up in July and Vallee expects August and September to be flat compared to last year, or down just a few per cent.

"The trend is going in the right direction," he said.

The number of visitors was down across the board except for those from Europe. U.S. tourists were down about 10 per cent in the second quarter and the number of travellers form Asia slumped.

But the winter months are looking promising said Vallee and hotels are predicting a good year in 2004.

"A lot of our hotel operators are telling us they are projecting six to seven per cent growth in revenue and that is how they are budgeting right now," he said.

Fisher said the resort is also looking toward a strong winter. Weather research centres across North America are predicting a cold winter with lots of snow.

The announcement that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are coming is also raising Whistler’s profile, as are the number one ratings the resort is getting in high profile magazines in the UK, Australia, and North America.

However, Fisher said other ski resorts are out there marketing hard and more and more people are leaving it to the last minute to book their holidays.

"We definitely have our work cut out for us," said Fisher.

"Whistler must hit its competitive threats head on. We have programs that we are launching to ensure that we are being as aggressive as our competition.

"We will just keep analyzing the statistics, and analyzing the market place. And we will work to understand our customers and how they want to book vacations and we will continue to meet their needs."

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