Visitors flock to Whistler 

Summer numbers way up - like "Canada Day every weekend"

The Kallander family drove up from Seattle for a weekend getaway. Tourism Whistler says this summer may be Whistler's best for visitor numbers. Photo by Vivian Moreau
  • The Kallander family drove up from Seattle for a weekend getaway. Tourism Whistler
    says this summer may be Whistler's best for visitor numbers. Photo by Vivian Moreau

Evan Green didn’t need to look outside Armchair Books last Friday to know there were lots of tourists in town. He just had to check the bookstore’s sales – 45 transactions by noon alone.

"That’s twice as much this morning as usual," the bookseller said.

With a near record number of visitors that story is being repeated around Whistler, which is experiencing a boom in tourist numbers this summer.

A 13 per cent average increase in room nights this spring points to a potentially record-breaking season, says Tourism Whistler, the resort’s tourism marketing arm. If trends like May’s 19 per cent increase and 7 per cent increase in June continue, Whistler could break 2000’s record for room nights sold.

Although Tourism Whistler releases only percentages, not actual numbers of room nights sold, according to municipal records, there were 406,363 room nights sold in 2000.

"This has the potential to be the best summer on record," said Tourism Whistler’s Breton Murphy. "Forecast for room bookings is up 8 per cent over last year and if projected growth occurs room nights sold will outpace 2000 by 4 per cent."

Visitor Information Centre staff have also noticed the increase. With 1,200 visitors on Canada Day, the centre’s Lloyd Craythorne thought July 1 would be summer’s peak day.

"But then the weekends following didn’t seem to slow down," the centre’s lead hand said. "It seems like it’s Canada Day every weekend."

The centre’s three counter staff handled 17,500 requests for information by July 25. Many more visitors dropped by to pick up brochures without stopping to ask questions.

John and Sharon Vercelotti are two of those visitors. Both biochemists, the couple is in Whistler to attend the International Carbohydrate Symposium being held at the Telus Whistler Conference Centre this week. They made an extended vacation of the trip, flying to Calgary for the Stampede and then taking the Rocky Mountaineer passenger train through Banff, Jasper and down to Whistler. What they’ve seen has been a welcome respite from their hometown, Covington, Louisiana, hard hit by hurricane Katrina a year ago.

"The mountains, snow, glaciers – we have none of that at home," Sharon Vercelotti said. "It’s just so fantastically beautiful."

Riverside RV and Camping has been full every night since July 1.

"We’re actually surprised we’re busy this year with the price of gas," the campground’s Charie Santiago said. The facility’s 60 serviced sites, 20 tenting sites and 14 cabins are usually booked by 3 p.m. Santiago said guests are booking four weeks in advance of long-weekends and two weeks ahead for mid-week bookings. An equal number of Canadians and Americans are visiting.

Seattle residents Scott and Rhonna Kallander drove up to Whistler with their children, Paige and Matt, for a weekend getaway. Stopped in Village Square, they said this is an annual Whistler pilgrimage they make that includes adventure activities for the kids and staying in a friend’s village condominium.

Rena and David Hawkridge, of Peterborough, England, made a day trip to Whistler as part of an extensive six-week vacation that included the Calgary Stampede, a Rocky Mountaineer trip to Vancouver and an Alaskan cruise. They managed to include Whistler in between visits to Grouse Mountain, Stanley Park, and Capilano Suspension Bridge.

"We’re very impressed so far," Rena Hawkridge said.

Tourism Whistler’s Murphy noted the Whistler Mountaineer has been a major contributor to Whistler’s 43 per cent increase in tour and travel numbers (visitors who come to Whistler as part of a tour group). As of July 21, Whistler Mountaineer had 38,300 bookings, surpassing its 2006 target of 36,000 passengers.

Murphy emphasized the upward trend is likely to continue.

"There’s still a lot to look forward to this summer," he said. "It’s nice to know we’re on a bit of a wave."

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