Mountain Town Roundup: Whistler hotels emptier than last year |

Mountain Town Roundup: Whistler hotels emptier than last year

COMPILED by Robert Allen
summit daily news

WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA – Despite hopes that the Winter Olympics would bring tourists flocking back to B.C. and especially to Whistler, 2010 is shaping up to become one of the mountain resort’s worst years.

The year-to-date hotel occupancy rate in Whistler to the end of June stood at 59.3 percent, lower than the 61.8-percent rate for recession-plagued 2009, said Mark Herron, chairman of the Hotel Association of Whistler.

“2009 was one of the most terrible years that the tourism industry has ever had,” Herron said Friday, adding that this year’s lower numbers are “alarming.”

B.C.’s tourism industry has never quite recovered to the record tourism levels before Sept. 11, 2001, that brought hordes of American visitors to the province, B.C. government industry performance reports show.

It was hoped the Games would help restore these levels.

However, considering that Whistler hotels were packed during February, the occupancy rates in other months had to be especially poor to bring about the low year-to-date numbers.

The numbers were crunched by PKF Consulting, a firm that specializes in gathering information for Canada’s tourism industry.

And it’s not just Whistler that has empty rooms.

B.C.’s overall hotel occupancy rate was “almost flat” against the June 2009 rate, said James Chase, CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association.

The year-to-date occupancy rate at the end of June stood at 65.5 percent.

“All these numbers include the Olympics,” Chase said.

He said it was “too soon to tell” whether July and August will make up for the slow start.

Stephen Pierce, Tourism Vancouver’s vice-president of leisure travel, said the American tourist market concerned him.

Struggling consumer confidence and a strong Canadian dollar might mean fewer visits to Vancouver, he said.

However, there is a bright spot: a spike in visits from B.C. and Alberta residents, Pierce said.

The same groups are the ones heading up to Whistler, said Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Whistler Blackcomb.

The percentage of people riding the Peak 2 Peak gondola who are from British Columbia has doubled since last year, Rempel said.

The one-year-old gondola, which connects Whistler to Blackcomb with a gravity-defying cable ride and breathtaking views, drives tourism to Whistler, Rempel said.

Seventy-three percent of gondola riders cited the attraction as the major reason, or one of the reasons, they decided to visit Whistler.

“It’s truly becoming a new tourism icon for Whistler, for B.C. and for Canada,” Rempel said.

Despite the recession, the gondola spurred a record for summer business at Whistler Blackcomb in 2009, with a 50 percent increase in visitors to the mountain, he said.

– Emily Jackson/The Vancouver Sun

Some Laramie residents oppose mandatory recycling

LARAMIE, Wyo. – City officials say a proposal to make curbside recycling mandatory in Laramie is angering residents who don’t want to pay a monthly fee of $1.66 for the service.

Councilor Bryan Shuster says a constituent called him “a four-letter word” at a coffee shop when Shuster told him the fee would go up to $5 when the program is fully implemented in three years.

Councilors have not yet taken a final vote on the matter.

Some of the councilors say their constituents would support the program while others say they don’t want the program to be mandatory.

The program would affect residents who receive automated garbage collection. The items to be recycled would be newspapers, magazines, cardboard and plastic.

– The Billings Gazette

It’s official: Mount Rainier is still as tall as we thought

SEATTLE, WASH. – The results are in from the most high-tech measurement of Mount Rainier ever undertaken, and – drumroll, please – they’re not very different from earlier figures.

A team of volunteers from the Land Surveyors Association of Washington pinned the mountain’s height at 3.6 inches taller than the commonly accepted value of 14,411 feet.

But the team is not calling for a rewrite of the maps.

The elevation change was due mainly to the fact that the U.S. Geological Survey marker used as the reference point had been partly pulled out of the ground by vandals, said project coordinator Gavin Schrock.

The two other markers installed in 1956 were missing, apparently stolen.

“The final one left had been pulled up so far, they figure that’s the whole 4 inches right there,” Schrock said.

The project was the third time in three decades that the surveyors have remeasured Rainier with GPS instruments. The first time, in 1988, the instruments weighed 80 pounds and the effort required a support team of 150 people.

This time, it took only nine people, carrying GPS units that weigh 2 pounds.

The 1988 result was 14,411.1 feet. Rounded off to 14,411, that’s the elevation that appears on some official maps. Others stick with the 14,410 figure from the 1956 USGS survey, conducted with traditional triangulation.

– Sandi Doughton/The Seattle Times

Visitors flocking to Glacier Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA – A good year for Glacier National Park got better Thursday as the National Park Service reported another spike in the number of visitors.

July brought 673,359 recreational visits compared to 603,681 during the same time last year, according to the park service. Overall, the park has recorded 8 percent more visitors this year compared to the same time in 2009.

The latest data brings the total number of recreational visits this year to 1,176,369, nearly 90,000 more than the same time last year.

The upswing means packed parking lots and crowded roads. Businesses in and around the park say it has also means improvement in bottom lines.

Glacier Park Inc., which operates cabins, lodges and hotels in the park, is recording a successful year, director of marketing Alicia Thompson said. Its retail sites, restaurants and bus service have also enjoyed increased patronage, she said.

“It was a very strong July,” Thompson said. “The whole summer, June and July, has been good for us.”

While the number of visitors was relatively high in 2009, many businesses reported stale or declining revenue.

Montana Raft Company co-owner Randy Gayner said his company watched last year as record numbers of visitors often chose to expend as little money as possible. In many cases that meant visitors passed up lodging, raft trips and guided tours. He said the outlook has improved compared to 2009.

Gayner estimated a 5 percent increase in revenue for his company compared to last year.

“We’re definitely up versus last year,” Gayner said. “But we’re still not quite where we were at in 2008.”

Glacier Raft Company has enjoyed an increase in visits as well. Co-owner Sally Thompson echoed doubts that an increase in visits automatically translates into success for private businesses, but said there are many indicators that business is improving.

“Yeah, it seems like its been really busy,” Thompson said. “I don’t know that we’re breaking any records.”

– Daily Inter Lake

2 dead in plane crash in mountains near McGrath

MCGRATH, ALASKA – Federal investigators are looking into the cause of an airplane crash that killed two people in the mountains near McGrath.

The two people, who were not immediately identified, were found dead in the wreckage Friday about 37 miles northeast of McGrath in the Sunshine Mountains, said Major Guy Hayes, a spokesman for the Alaska National Guard. Alaska State Troopers were notified of the crash a little after 11 p.m. Thursday, a spokeswoman said.

The crash was reported by another pilot in the area, and the National Guard launched a search shortly after midnight, Hayes said. Pararescuemen arrived by helicopter and found the two people dead in the plane, which was at about 2,000 feet elevation in the mountains, he said.

A dog in the plane was found alive and was hoisted to the helicopter, he said. Efforts to recover the bodies were stopped because of bad weather, and the guardsmen returned to McGrath, where they turned the dog over to troopers, Hayes said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has called in additional personnel to respond to several accidents in Alaska this week, is investigating the crash.

The aircraft, a Piper PA-18 built in 1979, is registered to Dolores Graybill, 78, according to Federal Aviation Administration Records. She and her husband, John Graybill, 79, live in Chugiak, according to public records. There was no answer at the home Friday.

– Anchorage Daily News

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