Visitor numbers on a roller coaster ride 

Bookings up through Easter, down slightly for April

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While there is still some confusion about passports, Murphy says that Tourism Whistler and its partner organizations like Tourism Vancouver have been successful in getting the word out to visitors. Originally, all Americans were required to have a passport by Jan. 1, 2008, but that requirement has been softened somewhat, thanks to lobbying by groups on both sides of the border. As of Jan. 31, people entering the United States are required to have a government issued photo I.D. such as a driver’s license, and proof of citizenship such as birth certificate; a valid passport; a Nexus or Fast Card; a state-issued enhanced driver’s licence (now available in B.C. and Washington state); or a U.S. Military I.D. with Military Travel Orders.

Unless State and provincial governments are successful in convincing the U.S. government to push back implementation even further, government issued photo I.D. and proof of citizenship will no longer be accepted after June 2009.

Most of the feedback on the new requirement has been anecdotal, but Murphy says they will continue to watch the numbers closely. So far he says it hasn’t been a major factor, and most visitors are aware of the changes.

As for gas prices, Murphy says Whistler is working to understand what markets will be affected and is working on strategies to offset any negative disincentives to travel.

“Whether its fuel prices, the low dollar, border delays or passport legislation, our research department is doing a lot of great work to understand who will be impacted by these different factors so we’re better equipped to respond,” said Murphy. “We’re in control of some factors, like how well we do in providing value in terms of price and… product.”

One example was an agreement worked out last year to offer $99 trips to Vancouver from California. Another is the Book Early and Save promotions offered at the start of the season, which are continuing to bring visitors to the resort.

Murphy says one way that Whistler is offering value is by taking U.S. cash at par with Canadian money. Whistler-Blackcomb has been offering that option all season, and other Whistler businesses are encouraged to do the same.

“If the dollar is close, then let’s ensure we recognize the value of U.S. visitors here by providing them with that added value,” said Murphy. “Recommended exchange rates don’t take into account … the long term context for the resort as a whole, and we’ve had great leadership by members of our commercial sector in providing added value.”

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