3 min

WinterPride boosts BC economy by $9 million

New study shows value of gay ski week in Whistler

Companionship on the hill during a day of skiing and snowboarding at WinterPride 2013. Credit: Niko Bell

WinterPride contributes $9 million to the BC economy, a newly released economic impact study commissioned by the Resort Municipality of Whistler indicates.

The annual gay ski week drew almost 3,000 visitors from 28 countries to the mountain town about an hour and a half north of Vancouver, the report says. Almost half the attendees came from outside Canada.

The study was commissioned by the municipality using funds from a provincial program to develop resort municipalities. It surveyed guests and totalled their spending in the province, along with spending by WinterPride in BC, to estimate the total economic activity generated by the eight-day event. The economic impact does not include spending on airfares or spending that leaves the province, such as when WinterPride hires an entertainer from outside BC.

The study found evidence for a $9-million impact on the BC economy, including a $4.8-million impact on the Whistler economy; $3.1 million of that total goes to wages that support 69 jobs.

The event generates $2.1-million in tax revenue for the three levels of government, the report says.

WinterPride is run by GayWhistler, a private, for-profit company that has been running the 21-year-old event since taking it over in 2006. The most recent event included group skiing and snowboarding, a Pride march through town, a charity ski race, off-mountain activities in Whistler Village, and nightly parties. It has been cited as one of the top gay winter events by several international magazines.

GayWhistler and Tourism Whistler would not release the report, citing trade secrets contained within it. Numbers included in this story come from a press release issued by GayWhistler.

Dean Nelson, CEO of GayWhistler, says the report will be a useful tool when working with the municipality and province in the future. Having raw economic data helps the company draw comparisons with other festivals that take place in the resort and compete for municipal resources.

“What they’re most interested in is how many jobs are we actually supporting and how much tax are we paying to the municipality,” Nelson says. “So, if they want to invest in a festival, they know where to invest those funds or they know that festival is no longer a good fit for them.”

“Now we do have evidence that this festival does generate an impact on the economy. When we apply for funding in the future we can demonstrate that,” Nelson says.

Of particular interest to the city is the report’s finding that WinterPride visitors often plan to make return trips to Whistler outside of the gay events. According to the survey research, 31 percent of participants plan to visit Vancouver/Whistler two or more times in addition to WinterPride week, including 52 percent of the out-of-province participants.

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says the study is important because WinterPride has asked for and received municipal support, and the study helps justify further investment in the festival. The municipality disburses $2.8 million annually in funds from BC’s Resort Municipality Initiative to boost tourism.

While WinterPride has not received cash from the municipality, Wilhelm-Morden says the city provides in-kind services, such as hanging banners around the municipality to promote the event and planning coordination for the Pride parade. GayWhistler had requested cash to hire entertainers for the 2013 festival, but the request was denied.

Based on the new data, “they certainly will be considered for funding in 2014,” Wilhelm-Morden says.

GayWhistler also announced that next year’s WinterPride will be moved up a week to avoid conflict with BC’s new Family Day holiday and the Chinese New Year. Both holidays see a huge spike in bookings at Whistler, with consequent price hikes.

Nelson says the decision to move WinterPride from its traditional spot on the first weekend of February was made in conjunction with the municipality.

“Having the new BC Family Day long weekend impacted the festival this year because [the resort was] completely sold out for the final weekend, so people didn’t even bother coming, which really impacted the bottom line. If we could help the resort spread out that volume, it’d be much better,” Nelson says.

WinterPride 2014 will run Jan 26 to Feb 2, and Nelson says he expects the community will be supportive of the new dates.

“A lot of people plan their trips years in advance and we’ve had a little push-back, but for the most part, people are understanding. When you look at room rates and lift tickets for Family Day weekend, you save 20 percent. Most of our community likes better value.”