Visitor numbers down, but not as much as expected 

Tourism numbers in Whistler are down, but less than expected.

It was estimated that room night occupancy might be down by as much as 20 per cent this season during initial analysis following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

But according to Tourism Whistler figures occupancy was down only five per cent in December and nine per cent in November compared to last year.

More visitors were also driving to the resort rather than flying in.

"What we saw when we looked at the global picture," said Barrett Fisher, vice-president marketing strategy and business development for Tourism Whistler, "was an increase in regional business and a decrease in long-haul U.S. markets and overseas."

B.C. was one of the strongest markets with a six per cent increase in occupancy over last year. There was a nine per cent increase in visitors from Alberta and a three per cent increase from Ontario.

One of the biggest increases was seen in the number of visitors from Washington state said Fisher.

"There was a 37 per cent increase," she said.

Fisher attributes the increase to aggressive marketing by Tourism Whistler in Washington state and to people’s desire to stay close to home for their holidays.

Last week Tourism Whistler started another advertising campaign in the Seattle area set to last six weeks.

One area there was a significant drop in business was the Japanese market, with a 45 per cent drop this year over last.

The Japanese are very concerned about safety, said Fisher, and the nation is suffering its own economic woes.

Visitors from the United Kingdom were also down 15 per cent. Fisher believes the drop is partly due to fallout from Sept. 11 as well as aggressive marketing by European ski destinations and early snow in Europe.

Fisher said Tourism Whistler plans to keep marketing to areas where they have seen the strongest response.

"We will continue to focus our marketing in the regional and West Coast markets," she said.

"But we are also launching a fairly extensive campaign Toronto to promote February, March and April business."

"This is going to continue to be somewhat of a roller coaster year.

"It has some positive aspects, but also some challenges and what we are going to proceed to do is be aggressive where we have seen results and to ensure that we can continue to proactively target key markets where we anticipate seeing a strong return on our investments."

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