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Pat Bell welcomed into tourism portfolio

Tourism industry welcomes former forest minister into new job



A month ago, Pat Bell was busy selling B.C. wood products to the world. For the last two weeks, his business has been selling B.C. itself to prospective visitors from all over the globe.

Bell, who hails from the Prince George-Mackenzie riding, was appointed as Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation last week by newly sworn-in Premier Christy Clark - one of a handful of cabinet insiders to retain a portfolio after the leadership race.

The question is whether he can help tourism the same way he has helped the resurgent forest industry. Tourism has been challenged recently by a high dollar, the economic crisis and what seems like a never-ending string of disasters going back to 9/11.

"One might think that a background of overseeing forestry and mining (Bell's previous portfolio) would not be relevant to tourism; however, my understanding is that Pat Bell has an excellent reputation both within government and within industry, and he's well known for getting things done," said Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler.

Fisher also sits on the provincial advisory council for tourism, where she'll have an opportunity to work alongside Bell.

"When he was in the forest ministry he pushed the frontiers to have forest products sold in China and is credited for opening the trade relationships there. If we make an analogy to tourism, we also need to open new frontiers in China...

"He's also an avid skier and golfer, and has certainly taken a great interest in the tourism industry, even before his appointment. He's spoken about the ski industry, and the importance of ensuring that B.C. is seen as one of the most frequented ski destinations around the world."

Fisher said the reception among her colleagues in Vancouver and elsewhere has been universally positive.

The tourism industry will need assistance from the province in several areas, added Fisher, such as removing barriers to travel, exploring new opportunities like health and wellness tourism, and ensuring that the province and tourism associations have the financial resources to reach global markets. Opening roads to new markets like China is also a priority, while continuing to market with more traditional visitors.

"The Canadian Tourism Commission this past year made a decision to pull out of the U.S. so they would have more money to invest in some new, developing markets, and we're (B.C. tourism associations) concerned that there's a void left in the U.S. market," said Fisher. "How do we work with Tourism B.C. to make sure the void is filled, and tourism marketing in the U.S. is continuing to raise awareness of B.C. and driving people to destinations like Whistler?"