Whistler ads get their colour back 

Tourism Whistler forecasts modest growth this winter

Whistler’s winter marketing campaign is back in full colour this fall after last year’s black and white media ads failed to live up to expectations.

The “Whistler. Always Real.” black and white campaign, which was two years in the making and designed to set the resort apart from other major ski areas, fell short when it hit the marketplace last year. Even though it won kudos from Ski Area Management magazine, it wasn’t resonating in key international markets.

“Our research showed that it didn’t really work as well as we had hoped it would,” said Christina Moore, manager of public relations and communications for Whistler-Blackcomb at the end of this week’s Tourism Whistler all members meeting.

The ads, with the “Always Real” tagline, were characterized by a black and white photo with a date and time of the shot, featuring close ups of real people instead of models. It was meant to convey the genuine, down to earth nature of Whistler.

The local and regional markets understood the Always Real campaign and its authentic and genuine message resonated with them.

The problem, said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher, was with the longer haul destination markets.

“They just didn’t quite get it,” said Fisher.

“If we were really going to grow the awareness of the destination we have to understand what are the benefits to the customer.

“And so that’s an indirect benefit when they get here. It is still core to our brand and we haven’t let that go. It’s just not actively promoted in our image awareness.”

And so the “Always Real” brand, this message that Whistler is genuine and down to earth, is still a part of the marketing efforts but the creative has changed.

Informal feedback to Whistler-Blackcomb from overseas markets such as the United Kingdom was that the ads were grey.

“Overall the research showed people missed the colour images,” said Moore.

That’s why in September’s issue of Powder magazine there’s a double page colour panoramic spread of the high alpine blanketed in snow under blue skies.

“The general feeling was that we need to step it up and just burst out again into that awe-inspiring high alpine scenery that really sets us apart and inspire people to want to be there,” said Moore.

The winter’s marketing campaign is ramping up now with colour page ads splashed in the major ski magazines this fall.

At Tourism Whistler’s all members meeting on Tuesday the forecast for the winter season was for “modest growth.” Officials are expecting room nights to be up three per cent over last winter, which was up five per cent over the year before.

And while there are ongoing challenges, such as the passport requirements, airline pricing and the U.S. exchange rate, early indications from Whistler.com and tour operators are positive.

Tourism Whistler is focusing its ad campaigns in the UK, Australia and Japan, as well as California and Ontario.

There are also plans afoot to market a specific week to Mexican tourists in February. Traditionally Mexican guests come to Whistler at Christmas and Easter.

Keri Earnshaw, who has been in business for just three months with Whistler Therapeutic Spa, questioned what is being done to market the resort in the shoulder seasons, explaining how difficult the slow times are for the small businesses in town.

“I think they are looking at the big picture and not the small picture and that there’s so much more to Whistler than just the mountain and that all has to survive leading up to the Olympics,” she said following the meeting.

“I’m scraping the barrel and hoping I can make it to a hopefully busy season.”

Fisher said Tourism Whistler invests its marketing dollars where they are going to see the highest return on that investment.

The primary focus is the winter but they schedule events such as Cornucopia and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival to keep the shoulder seasons busier.

Fisher said the busier it becomes in winter, the more effort they’ll put into the shoulder season.

More than 100 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, including hoteliers, local business owners and Tourism Whistler board members.

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