Preparing for the Chinese wave 

Arrivals to B.C. from China up 18 per last year, and only expected to rise 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TOURISM WHISTLER - Chinese Downhill The China Ski Club poses at the Peak of Whistler Mountain in 2012.
  • Photo BY Tourism WHistler
  • Chinese Downhill The China Ski Club poses at the Peak of Whistler Mountain in 2012.

There will be 75 flights from China into Canada per week this summer, more access than any other country save the United States. And Whistler is getting ready for the business.

"I can tell you that the last three flights I've had (they) are chock-a-block full. You cannot find a seat," said Kim Hood, Tourism Whistler's manager of market development for Asia Pacific and Emerging Markets, just recently returned from a nine-day whirlwind trade trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"The word is getting out that Whistler is a must-have in an itinerary."

The numbers alone tell the story: in 2012, Chinese arrivals into B.C. jumped a staggering 18 per cent. And the projections for the coming years show potential of 25 to 30 per cent increases.

Tourism Whistler could not share numbers for competitive reasons but the Chinese market is gaining momentum in the resort.

In May, Destination BC held a Worldhost Service workshop in Whistler designed to teach Tourism Whistler's members about the nuances of the Chinese visitors.

Typically these workshops draw about a dozen participants; that number doubled in Whistler.

"I think that's a really good sign that the Whistler members are very interested in making sure that they understand the market and what the service expectations are when they come to the resort," said Hood.

Tiffany Whelan, travel industry sales manager with the Four Seasons Whistler, attended the three-hour workshop.

The idea was to take back what she learned and implement changes at the hotel with the front line staff.

Chinese guests are now flagged at the Four Seasons and certain amenities are added to their rooms — slippers and bathrobes for every guest, kits with things like toothpaste, certain teas — standard things, in other words, at hotels in China.

The concierges also have maps with translations, supplied by Tourism Whistler.

"The more we can do to make them feel at home, the better," said Whelan. "When you're already anticipating the guests' needs it goes that much farther."

Typically the Chinese guest is coming to the Four Seasons in small groups through the wholesale tour operators. Another niche is at Chinese New Year.

"It's still pretty small," said Whelan of the market. "But the good news is that it's coming and those that are coming are spending a good deal of money."

In fact, they tend to be coming in groups for longer periods of time in the summer (about five to seven nights) and booking some of the higher-suite categories.

"It's a good market for us," said Whelan.

Wade Wilkins, from the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa, also attended the workshop. He thought it would be worthwhile given that Rendez-vous Canada, the CTC's premier international tourism marketplace, fell later that month in Ottawa.

The workshop, among other things, gave him tips on "how to start off on the right foot" with potential Chinese clients.

"It was an important show for us," he said of Rendez-vous and making those connections.

If the local hotels are getting ready for the Chinese wave, so too is the Western Canada ski industry.

In the April newsletter, Canada West Ski Areas Association president David Lynn highlighted the numbers coming from China, and that current trends suggest that Chinese visitors could supplant the United Kingdom as the second highest source of international visitors in B.C. in 2013 (China is currently fourth).

"This has implications for Western Canadian Ski Resorts with respect to their summer and winter businesses," Lynn told the members. "We know that China is not yet a major source of destination skiers of Canada. However, given the rapid development of the ski industry in China, and the inclination of the Chinese to travel to Canada, it could certainly become one in the future."

Canada received Approved Destination Status from China in the summer of 2010.

Since then there has been a steady increase in visitation.

Where once it was assumed that most visitors would be coming in tour groups, there is a growing trend of more FITs — Free Independent Travellers.

"The trend to FIT is absolutely where this market is going and from day one I've believed that Whistler is in the perfect position for that type of visitor so we really feel like we're getting there," said Hood.

And while the middle classes are ballooning in all emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil, there is also a luxury high-end traveller segment.

"They really want to know what the resort can offer and why it's unique," said Hood.

"They are sophisticated travellers and they do go to Dubai and they do go to South Africa and they do go to New Zealand, so when they come to Whistler they want unique and they want the real Canadian experience that they can go home and talk about."

Next winter, Destination BC and the Canadian Tourism Commission will set up the Canada Ski Café at the base of one of the ski runs at the Nanshan Ski Resort, roughly one hour outside of Beijing.

The café will be branded with the CTC logo and the inside will have images of Whistler and Alberta.

Hood said: "I think it will give us better insight into the ski market from China in terms of who will ski domestically and who is motivated to take a long haul ski vacation."


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