Statistics show American visitors returning to Whistler 

But numbers still below what they were pre-9/11

If you think you are hearing a few more Americans in the resort than in recent years you’re right.

Both Tourism Whistler and B.C. Stats are reporting that U.S. visitors to this province are on the rise.

"We are definitely seeing some positive movement in the U.S. market," said Arlene Schieven, vice president of marketing for Tourism Whistler.

"For example from May to August of this year there was a 23 per cent increase for the U.S. market over the same time last year."

Much of that came from long-haul U.S. group visitors, in part thanks to the expanded Telus Conference Centre at Whistler.

But Tourism Whistler research also found that the number of Washington state visitors was up by about 9 per cent.

In the most recent issue of Infoline Report from B.C. Stats (www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca) researchers report that: "B.C. is the second most common point of entry for U.S. residents after Ontario.

"Last year, 17 per cent of all U.S. entries to Canada were through British Columbia, a proportion not seen since 1986 when Vancouver hosted an international exposition."

In 2003 U.S. residents made more than 35 million trips to Canada and over 6 million of those began in B.C.

B.C., states the report, is the only region that has experienced a substantial increase in market share during the last 30 years.

And while all U.S. travel was affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 B.C. seems to have suffered less as a destination than other places in Canada.

By far the most common mode of travel for Americans coming to Canada is by car: some 68 per cent of total entries by U.S. residents to B.C. in 2003 were individuals in private vehicles, states the B.C. Stats report.

Another 17 per cent flew into B.C. and 9 per cent travelled by boat.

However, the report goes on to point out that the number of Americans coming by car is down since 9/11. In June 2001 more than 500,000 U.S. auto passengers arrived, whereas in June 2004 about 370,000 crossed the B.C. border from the U.S. That’s a drop of about 26 per cent.

The report speculates that some of the decline is due to long waits at the border. And while that may be true for those travelling to Canada for a day trip it doesn’t mesh with Tourism Whistler’s findings for vacationers.

"We do track the border (issue) and the hassle but it doesn’t come up as a strong factor," said Schieven.

"What we see more of is people wanting to try something new or they are staying close to home.

"Value also comes up and that is an area that we are really working on for next year, to really provide value for our visitors. And we want to focus on the experience they are getting when they come here."

Access to the resort also came up in the recent SKI magazine ratings. For a number of reasons, access amongst them, Whistler fell to fifth position from last year’s second place finish.

Schieven believes the best way to combat the perception that border crossings can be onerous, and travellers may face delays is to keep the public informed about exactly what to expect.

And for summer tourists the scenic Seat to Sky Highway drive is sold as part of the experience of coming to the resort.

When it comes to air travel and improving access through Vancouver’s airport Tourism Whistler is active with a number of organizations, including the Air Industry Monitoring Consortium.

"We are always lobbying for improvements and increased air access so that is definitely a key part of our business plan," said Schieven.

Tourism Whistler has been busy researching why travellers come to the resort and why they stay away. For the most part it appears to be the desire by tourists to try something new, said Schieven.

"The value and expense… also comes up," she said.

And some people are just choosing not to take a vacation.

"A lot of (those surveyed) are asking for things related to value and having value all year round, not just during the week or in the shoulder seasons," said Schieven. "So that is something that both the properties and the mountains are working toward as well.

"There is also requests for special services. Child care comes up as a high one."

Schieven said the organization has a lot of information to work with to help mould marketing initiatives to bring tourists to Whistler.

And their newest forecasting models predict that the resort will see an increase of about 9.5 per cent in the number of U.S. visitors this winter season.

"That is good, but we are still a ways off of our best ever numbers for the U.S. market," said Schieven.

"U.S. visitors to Whistler over the winter… has been as high as 40 per cent or more. But according to our forecast models it will take us a few years to recover back to those levels."

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