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Tourism industry optimistic about 2005 season



International tour operators do business in Whistler during Canada’s West Marketplace

Western Canada’s tourism industry was boosted by its largest tourism trade show, which was held in Whistler last week.

Hundreds of delegates congregated for three days, from Dec. 2 to 5, at the TELUS Conference Centre for Canada’s West Marketplace, a tourism trade show representing operators throughout B.C. and Alberta.

"This has probably been the most successful Marketplace ever... certainly in terms of attendance," said Christine Jones, marketing co-ordinator overseas programs with Tourism B.C.

Jones said before the show took place there were more than 25,000 pre-scheduled appointments booked online between buyers and sellers.

Last year there were only 14,000 pre-booked appointments.

Canada’s West Marketplace brings together international tour operators and tourism suppliers in B.C. and Alberta, representing a range of organizations from the accommodation sector to attractions and activities and recreation.

Both sides are conducting business for the 2004-05 winter season and the 2005 summer season.

Jones said there was an optimistic feeling about the future at this year’s Marketplace.

"It’s really neat when you walk through the Marketplace floor and you look down these aisle of booths... and you see someone meeting at almost every booth and you know that these guys are doing business," she said.

"From all the sellers that we’ve been speaking with, they’re excited. The energy is really high. They’re having good meetings, so that’s the main thing."

Tourism Whistler attends the show every year. Rosalind Casey, director of destination awareness at Tourism Whistler, agreed there was excitement in the air about next season.

"There’s been a lot of challenges the last couple of years," said Casey, referring to SARS, the war in Iraq and the effects of Sept. 11.

"But the tour operators in most of the countries feel optimistic in moving forward for 2005 and beyond, definitely."

Canada’s West Marketplace was established in 1989 as a partnership between Tourism B.C. and Travel Alberta. One of the Marketplace’s main objectives from its inception was to "provide a forum by which sellers could meet one-on-one with overseas buyers in a sales exchange format to propose tour options and book business."

This year there were 151 buyer delegates from around the world, representing 23 countries.

"From Whistler’s perspective these countries represented both primary and growth markets for us so we had an opportunity to showcase Whistler to new operators as well as existing operators, so it was very beneficial for us," said Casey.

Whistler’s primary markets are countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and the U.K., whereas its growth markets are the Nordic countries and Korea, among others.

Casey said that looking ahead to 2005 and beyond there seems to be some good opportunities both in the established markets and in newer markets.

"Some of our key accounts, or our best customers, were at the conference and they feel very optimistic about the future," said Casey.

"As well, we see some new opportunities with new operators."

From B.C. there were 153 seller organizations at the show and all tourism regions throughout the province were represented.

Jones said the Marketplace is a key event for many tourism sellers throughout Western Canada.

"It’s tremendously important," she said.

"For many of these tourism suppliers as sellers this is one of the major initiatives."

Canada’s West Marketplace is one of two major travel industry conferences held in Canada each year where tour operators come to Canada and experience the product first hand.

"So it’s a very important part of our tourism marketing mix in bringing the people in to see our products," said Casey.

This is the third time Marketplace has been held in Whistler and Casey said it’s an added benefit to be the host town.

"It works out really well for us," she said.

"We have the opportunity to still conduct appointments with them but the huge benefit is that they can actually see the product first hand while they’re in the resort, which is great for us."

Next year Canada’s West Marketplace will be held in Edmonton, which is also celebrating its Centennial in 2004.