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Province expecting tourism to slow


Whistler may not fit into general trends for the province, but it is not alone in anticipating a slowing of growth in tourism.

Tourism B.C. President Rod Harris last week warned that the long-term health of the provincial tourism industry remains "challenged."

Overnight visitors to B.C. grew 1.4 per cent last year and are only expected to increase 1.3 per cent this year. That compares to four and five per cent growth rates in recent years.

Vancouver, which along with Victoria and Whistler remains one of the three benchmarks for tourism in B.C., is going through a similar spurt to Whistler, where hotel room inventory is growing faster than visitors. The Greater Vancouver hotel occupancy rate has fallen by almost three percentage points in the past year, to approximately 67 per cent.

Tourism B.C. reported that industry revenues grew by 3.2 per cent last year, to $9.5 billion, and are forecast to increase by 3 per cent this year, to $9.77 billion.

Harris told the Vancouver Sun the slowdown in growth is due to increasing competition for tourism business and uncertainties that have a direct impact on tourism, such as higher fuel prices, airline mergers, the expected downturn in the U.S. economy and weather.

The number of convention delegate days in Vancouver also fell last year, while traffic at visitor information centers across the province also declined.

Not all tourism indicators were negative, however, as restaurant receipts grew by approximately 8 per cent and number of cruise ship passengers rose by 11 per cent.

But Harris pointed out B.C. – like Tourism Whistler – has fallen behind many of its competitors when it comes to marketing budgets. B.C. has an annual tourism marketing budget of about $27 million, compared to $37 million for Quebec, $76 million for Ontario and $84 million for Queensland, Australia, which has a similar sized industry as B.C.

Harris told The Sun the tourism industry remains concerned about airline capacity to B.C. in the wake of the merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines.

However, the number of American visitors to B.C. is expected to increase 1.5 per cent this year, after just a 0.5 per cent increase last year. Part of the reason for this is the strengthening of European currencies against the American dollar, which makes Europe less attractive to American tourists.

The downside is that the number of European visitors to B.C. is forecast to grow by less than one per cent this year. The number of Asian visitors, on the other hand, is expected to increase by more than four per cent.

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