Mild concern in Whistler as dollar reaches parity 

Value, loyalty and good snow emphasized in response to exchange rate

On April 7 the Canadian Loonie briefly hit parity with the U.S. greenback, and at press time was less than 0.0015 dollars away - about as close to even as you can get.

While this is usually bad news for Canadian tourism it's also nothing new.

In November of 2007 the Canadian dollar reached parity with the U.S. dollar for the first time in 31 years and at one point the Canadian dollar was worth more than $1.10 U.S.

Some leading economists expect parity to remain for the long term, with more international investors paying attention to the Canadian currency and economy, which has been relatively stable since dozens of major U.S. and international banks collapsed in the fall of 2008.

Tourism Whistler is also watching the situation.

"In November 2007, when the Canadian dollar was strong against the U.S. dollar, Whistler saw a mix of reactions," explained Jeff McDonald, manager of corporate communications. "We saw travellers in key markets in the U.K., Europe and Australia, whose currencies also strengthened against the U.S. dollar, choose Canada for their vacations.

"Some Canadian travellers were probably choosing to take advantage of the strong Loonie and went to the U.S. for vacations but overall visitor numbers in November 2007 were extremely strong in Whistler, driven by a strong global economy and great early snowfall in the resort that winter."

McDonald says that U.S. visitors are no longer surprised by the exchange rate and are still visiting Whistler.

"While (currency fluctuations) are a concern the strength of the global economy will probably trump currency fluctuations, as it did the last time the Loonie reached these levels... visitor numbers will be determined by (the global economy) and other factors, such as the global profile we gained as the host mountain resort for the 2010 Winter Games, our offering great value in the resort, and, during the winter months, by lots of great snow."

Whistler Blackcomb has taken the rising Canadian currency seriously. In 2007 Whistler Blackcomb offered American travellers an even exchange rate as an incentive to visit the resort. Other businesses also followed suit.

Dave Brownlie, president and chief operating officer, says the resort is taking action this time around as well.

"We have seen our U.S. business decline since our peak in 2001-02 as a result of the strengthening Canadian dollar," Brownlie acknowledged. "In response Whistler Blackcomb has continued to improve our experience and drive value to our long haul U.S. visitors through our early bird pricing, customer service and product offerings including the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. We have also opened our Edge Card program to the Washington market to drive continued loyalty.

"This coming year value will continue to be a primary message with flat season pass and Edge Card pricing (for our regional market) as well as compelling vacation packages to capture the momentum of increased awareness of Whistler since the Games."

The Conference Board of Canada released a special briefing paper last week regarding the rise of the dollar and acknowledged that it was trouble for tourism and other sectors. Since 2001 the conference board noted that U.S. visitation to Canada has dropped 52 per cent.

 

 

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