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Whistler tourism revenue soars thanks to busy ski season

First-quarter financial report details busy start to year for municipality
Whistler saw a notable increase in tourists coming to the resort between the beginning of the year and the end of March as evidenced by rising tourism revenue | Andy Dittrich /

Whistler experienced one of its busiest winters on record last year, according to the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s (RMOW) first-quarter financial report, presented to council on July 4.

In her presentation, the RMOW’s director of finance Carlee Price explained the resort saw a significant increase in visitors in Q1, from the beginning of the year to the end of March, bringing in substantial Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) revenue. 

“[In the first quarter] I know that parking and MRDT [revenues] continued to grow,” Price said.

“This reflects an ongoing interest in visiting our community both on [the] part of day trippers and overnight visitors.”

According to a staff report, in Q1, MRDT was 40.3 per cent above Q1 2022 levels, and 32.8 per cent above Q1 2019.

Together, Resort Municipality Initiative funding and MRDT revenue accounted for $7.2 million in Q1—a 198-per-cent increase over last year, and well above the $5 million budgeted for both in Q1 2023.

Price said MRDT revenue from online accommodation providers, which comes from nightly rental services like Airbnb, also saw significant growth in Q1, to the tune of $922,000, with that additional income going towards Whistler events and RMOW-led affordable housing projects. 

“So good news for MRDT is good news for the Summer Concert Series and also good news for employee housing,” she said. 

The RMOW again saw notable growth in parking revenue, which was up 23.8 per cent compared to Q1 2022, and 95.1 per cent compared to 2019 levels.

Earlier this year the RMOW opted to raise parking rates on several municipally-owned parking lots; however, those changes took effect on April 3, and were not reflected in Q1. 

Revenue was strong in Lost Lake Cross Country skiing and Whistler Olympic Park ice rink operations (up 10.9 and 20.9 per cent, respectively), while Meadow Park Sports Centre also saw a very busy Q1, with passes and admissions sales up 67.6 per cent compared to Q1 2022 and up 14.9 per cent versus 2019. However, programs like swimming lessons declined as the RMOW struggled to find qualified lifeguards.  

Investment revenue was up substantially, climbing 177 per cent compared to Q1 last year, as rising interest rates helped the RMOW bring in stronger returns. However, the $541,541 in Q1 investment revenue was still below the $812,154 budgeted for the quarter.

Rising interest rates also present a double-edged sword for the RMOW, as rate increases affect borrowing for large projects such as employee housing in Cheakamus Crossing, increasing project costs.  

Expenditures-wise, the RMOW’s chief administrative officer (CAO) office was the only department to see an overall spending decline in Q1, decreasing 4.8 per cent compared to 2022, primarily due to pandemic-related communications and collaborations ending. 

The mayor and council department saw the biggest increase in year-over-year expenditures, at 36.6 per cent. The increase is due to a pay raise for mayor and council—which was approved by the previous council—coming into effect at the beginning of the year. 

The climate action, planning and development department saw the second biggest increase in expenditures, at 32.3 per cent, followed by community engagement and cultural services at 30.9 per cent.

Find the full report here.