Whistler.com profitability helping to market resort 

Company doubles in three years to $20 million in sales

Whistler is now reaping the rewards of a seven-year-old council decision to use public money to buy a private company.

Jointly owned by the municipality and Tourism Whistler, the web-based booking engine whistler.com is pouring its profits back into marketing the resort.

In the last three years alone, roughly $1.7 million has gone into marketing - that's money that could have otherwise stayed in private hands if not for the decision to invest public money.

"This partnership between two government bodies has produced this great entrepreneurial company that is promoting, selling Whistler for the success of all of us," said Diana Lyons, Tourism Whistler's vice president of operations.

Lyons presented whistler.com's updated financial statements to council recently, something she does twice a year even though the municipality is not on the hook to fund the company.

It is a 51 per cent silent partner, having invested $925,000 to buy the company in 2002.

Tourism Whistler bought the other half in 2006.

The structure of the partnership agreement calls for any profits the company makes to go directly back into advertising, after expenses.

"Whistler.com is a standalone company and we have to make sure that we break even or make a profit at the end of the year, because there's no one backstopping (it)," said Lyons.

While there was no profit in the first few years of operations, that all changed when Tourism Whistler came on board with the full force of its marketing clout.

Since 2006, whistler.com has doubled its sales, growing from a $10 million company to a $20 million company in that time.

While it has grown in leaps and bounds, Lyons cautioned that whistler.com is still only a small part of the overall resort pie. It is responsible for about five per cent of the total room nights bought in Whistler every year. That translates to about 55,000 room nights of the roughly one million sold annually.

Whistler.com is second only to Intrawest Central Reservations (Whistler Blackcomb's reservation service). It now sells more online room nights in Whistler than Expedia.

"We've got a number of distribution channels that provide all these room nights and while whistler.com is doing exceptionally well, we're not the sole driver of room nights into the resort," said Lyons.

When it does sell a room night however, the commission earned goes directly back into marketing the resort, specifically in tactical advertising. That's marketing aimed at specific market segments at a specific time, rather than brand marketing which conveys Whistler's identity or image. For example, an April ad in the Seattle Times focused on early bird golf specials for May.

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