january biz 

By Amy Fendley Dollar value, snow conditions and a great reputation — the top three reasons why January business in Whistler has surpassed last year’s records and exceeded all expectations. Business is booming and hotels are reaping the rewards. "Business is up, there’s no question about that," says Craig MacKenzie, vice president of home owners service for Powder Resort Properties. "We have been better at getting our message out there, the Canadian dollar is low and January has for a number of years now been the month we’ve concentrated on in terms of value. The cost of accommodations is lower than at Christmas and lower than February." It is not difficult for Whistler as a growing resort to fill its beds every Saturday night, especially as Whistler sees more of the rubber tire market — tourists from Vancouver, Washington, Alberta and the Interior. But MacKenzie argues that in order to grow in terms of rates and occupancy, more effort should be spent on booking longer mid-week stays, especially in preparation for next year. "There needs to be tighter pre-booking restrictions," said MacKenzie. "Next year it will be more difficult for tourists to book just a weekend. It is going to be a struggle for Whistler on a whole and an interesting challenge as we move forward. Selling out Saturday night, only goes so far. The aim should be to keep the average occupancy up, as well as peak occupancy." All of the Chateau Whistler Resort’s 558 rooms have been booked from Dec. 26, 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000. Their millennium party, As Time Goes By, is also sold out. Sonya Hwang, manager of public relations for the Chateau Whistler said the majority of the bookings were made over this last Christmas season, but they are compiling a waiting lists. Last January the Chateau experienced a 73.7 per cent occupancy rate. For January 1999 that increased to 83.02 per cent, a 9.32 per cent jump which broke all previous booking records. As of the end of January the number of skier visits was up by 22 per cent from last year. "Internally, we’re trying to track why we’re doing so well," says David Perry, vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb. "Tourists generally book their vacations long before they know what the snow conditions will be like." Statistics indicate that the majority of Whistler’s destination visitors are from the U.S., the U.K., and the Australian markets. Canada has become a much better value than the U.S. resorts due to currency fluctuation. Whistler-Blackcomb has been aggressively targeting those markets. "The Canadian dollar gone peso, primo resorts el cheapo," recites Perry. "The news media have been very influential in helping us pick up business. The Wall Street Journal and CNN have picked up on the Canadian to American marketing strategy, using comparative pricing, comparing us to American ski destinations like Vail." Perry is optimistic about next year, and says that in terms of planning Whistler-Blackcomb has been working closely with the WRA so that things "will be well aligned." Retail businesses in Whistler are also enjoying the increase in visitors. As one businessman said, "If the retailers aren’t whining than things are all right." Whistler Chalets has experienced a 45 per cent increase in business over the same time last year, and last year was a record season. Patrick McCurdy, president of Whistler Chalets Ltd., says he is very pleased with the record business and cites a long list of reasons for this success. "I think it has come out of last year, with a very strong snow record and a lot of press," said McCurdy. "The exchange rate has not only made the resort more attractive, but it’s received more attention from Canadians who want to stay home. Airline seat sales are making it easy to book holidays." Having already exposed people to really great snow conditions, McCurdy doesn’t have any doubts that Whistler will head into a very strong 2000, but fears an inevitable lack of accommodation. "Next Christmas and New Year’s we are going to experience fewer home owners making their properties available," said McCurdy. "Due to the strong demand for accommodation already for the 1999-2000 winter season, guests are being advised that it is unsure whether their villa lodging can be confirmed. There are already strong indications that the demand for tourist lodging will be far greater than the supply."

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