Visitor numbers on a roller coaster ride 

Bookings up through Easter, down slightly for April

Whistler continues to be a big draw, despite confusion over new passport requirements for land border crossings, record gas prices, a higher Canadian dollar, and economic uncertainty south of the border.

According to Breton Murphy, manager of corporate and member communications for Tourism Whistler, projections suggest that bookings through the end of March are higher than last year, while April bookings are down slightly.

“The second half of the month is trending positively, and a big part of that is the fact that Easter is in March this year,” he said. “When we look at April this far out, and these are only projections, but we’re expected not to be as strong as last year. Things still look good to the end of the season, but with Easter in March this year we knew coming in that April would be down.”

While December visitor numbers were up significantly, up five per cent over 2006 with more than 90 per cent occupancy reported in the village, January 2008 fell just short of 2007.

“January 2007 was almost on par with our best January ever (2001), so to fall just short is still quite strong,” said Murphy.

Tourism Whistler is still putting together numbers for February, but expects that numbers will be up slightly over last year.

After April, when then ski season winds down, Murphy says the resort has good reason to be cautiously optimistic.

“If you look at the work we’ve done resort-wide to develop a broader suite of products to complement our mainstay activities of mountain biking and golf… and given what we’ve seen so far with the softening of the U.S. economy and weakness of the U.S. dollar, and challenges with passport legislation… we’re in a good position,” he said. “All the challenges we’ve dealt with in the past… come back to the value messaging that is resonating well with short haul U.S. visitors.”

According to Murphy, Americans make up one-third of overnight visitors to the resort, and visitors from Washington state make up the majority of U.S. visitors.

“We have a link to a study that indicated that Americans still intend to travel in the summer of ’08, but length of stay, total spend, and distance traveled from home is expected to shrink,” he said, adding that the economy of the Pacific Northwest has not been as affected by larger financial worries as other parts of the U.S.

“The research supports what we’ve been seeing in the summer — shorter stays, last minute travel… focusing on the regional market in the summer and the value we’re offering is going to be key,” said Murphy.

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