Resort marketers working hard to carry holiday success into new year 

By all accounts it was a great holiday season for businesses in Whistler.

"It went really well," said John Gideon of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures.

"We were flat out. We even had to turn a few away."

With the economic recession and the fall-out of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in the U.S. many businesses, including Whistler-Blackcomb, were unsure how the season would shape up.

But near-record snow falls in early December, sunny weather over the holidays, and aggressive marketing to regional markets appear to have paid off.

"We’ve had exceptional numbers," said Christopher Nicolson, public relations manager for Whistler-Blackcomb.

"I think what we have seen is a lot of people in the regional market choosing to stay home, meaning within a drive-holiday destination, and the result has been huge numbers up at Whistler.

"I know there was more than we saw last year."

However, Whistler-Blackcomb does not release actual skier numbers.

Nicolson believes part of the resort’s success was due to the hard work local businesses did in working together to offer attractive packages to many different markets.

"There was a lot of co-operative work between Whistler-Blackcomb, Whistler, and many of the properties," said Nicolson.

"And to be successful for the rest of the year we have to continue that because there are still holes in our occupancy.

"While it’s great news for now and it is all super we cannot afford to take that for granted and we have to continue to work very, very hard."

Nicolson also noticed an increase in the last minute bookings from overseas customers. Many were phoning around in the week before Christmas looking for good snow.

"And we had the best snow in North America," he said. Good ratings by European publications also helped said Nicolson.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler also enjoyed a good holiday season.

"Things went very well," said spokeswoman Sonya Hwang.

"The whole hotel was pretty much solidly booked."

Hwang also noticed an increase in people booking later in the season with reservations being confirmed in the month leading up to Christmas.

Preliminary numbers from Tourism Whistler have 80-100 per cent occupancy between Dec. 23 and the 27 said Barrett Fisher, vice-president marketing strategy and business development.

The days leading up to the New Year’s celebration were even stronger with 95-100 per cent occupancy between Dec. 28 and 31.

"We had a very busy Christmas week and a pretty close to sold out New Year’s week," said Fisher.

But just because the holiday season was good, said Fisher, doesn’t mean businesses can sit back and relax.

"We are certainly anticipating that this is going to be a challenging season," she said.

"...We believe the regional market did stay at home and a lot of those people decided to make Whistler their home away from home, but does that mean we are home-free for January and February? Absolutely not.

"We are still going to be working strong and hard. We launched very aggressive marketing programs in November and December ...(and) we can be no less aggressive in January and February."

Tourism Whistler will market to Washington State again in the New Year and also targeting the Toronto area.

The border, a big problem for those heading south New Year’s day, continues to be an issue.

"Its an on-going challenge," said Fisher. "We do have some key people that we will continue to have discussions with. It’s going to be a long-term challenge."

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