Slow start to Olympic season forecast by Tourism Whistler 

August 2009 breaks records, becomes second busiest month of year

While August may have reset the occupancy record books in Whistler, the Olympic winter season is shaping up predictably so far.

According to Tourism Whistler's forecasts, it will be a slow start to the season, a hectic mid-season and a reasonable end to the winter.

"It's a really unusual year," said Arlene Schieven, vice-president of marketing at Tourism Whistler. "It's a really tough one for forecasting.

"We're looking at the strength definitely coming in the later half of the season."

Overall the forecast shows an increase of three per cent over last year. Bear in mind, however, last year was down eight per cent over the previous year.

"When you look at us being up overall three per cent for the winter, that's just recovering part of what we lost last year," said Schieven.

Whistler is expected to be down nine per cent over its best year.

While February 2010 will set new records on the occupancy books, the first half of the season will be slow.

November is expected to be down 4 per cent, December down 7 per cent and January down by 3 per cent. Those come on top of 10-11 per cent decreases last year.

The slow start means Tourism Whistler is continuing to work to combat Olympic aversion - a trend of guests to stay away because of perceptions the host city is too busy, too expensive and too difficult to get to.

"We need to break down those perceptions that we're closed, or that it's under construction, or it's going to be expensive and busy. We have some great offers available from our accommodation partners... We have a good product to sell in those times," said Schieven.

By February, however, there will be an abrupt turnaround and the sluggish start may be a distant memory as the resort fills to 90 per cent occupancy for the Games period.

The time before the Games, Feb. 1-12, occupancy is expected to be about 60 per cent.

Overall, February is expected to see a 21 per cent increase over last year.

March is expected to be the second busiest month of the season.

The winter predictions come on the heels of a record-breaking August 20009, with visitor numbers up 23 per cent over last year.

"It was our second best month of the year," said Schieven.

"I think that's the first time we've seen a summer month be our number two month."

She points to several factors such as the good deals, special events, and of course, the weather.

Like the sunshine in summer, if the snow begins to fly this winter the forecasts will change.

Schieven expects the boost to come from the regional market, including the Seattle area, as opposed to the long haul destination market.




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