Opinion » Editorial

Tourism numbers up — time to look at adventure sector



International tourism is growing faster than it has at any time in the last seven years.

According to a just-released, though preliminary, report by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it is estimated that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide increased seven per cent in 2017 — that's a record 1.32 billion tourists.

Deep breath, everyone.

Top of the list for visits was France, expected to have hosted close to 88 million people — as usual.

But second place this year went to Spain, soundly displacing the U.S. This is somewhat surprising considering the terrorist attack last August and the independence crisis in the tourism-magnet region of Catalonia.

(The least visited place is Tuvalu in Oceania, with only 2,000 tourists a year. It's definitely a bucket-list place to visit before rising oceans due to climate change swallow it.)

Perhaps the numbers in the UNWTO report support the idea of the "Trump Slump."

The U.S. is the only country on the continent to see a drop in visitation in 2017.

According to the US International Trade Administration international tourism to the States shrank during the first five months of Donald Trump's presidency. Arrivals fell five per cent in the first quarter and three per cent in the second quarter.

Not only are fewer travellers heading to the U.S., they are spending less, says the U.S. Commerce Department. The department found that international visitor spending dropped more than three per cent in the first 11 months of 2017 — this equals the loss of US$4.6 billion and 40,000 jobs.

Tourist entries from Mexico to the U.S. dropped 8.5 per cent (9.6 million) — not too surprising given the "build the wall" rhetoric from Trump.

The only region that showed growth in visits to the U.S.? Canada! Visits were up 4.6 per cent to 11.6 million.

So much for using our economic clout to send a message to the Twitter twit.

"International travel continues to grow strongly, consolidating the tourism sector as a key driver in economic development. As the third export sector in the world, tourism is essential for job creation and the prosperity of communities around the world," said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili in a written statement recently.

Last year, the UNWTO's theme around tourism was sustainability — a natural choice considering the increasing issues around overtourism. It is likely to remain a focus as UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals worldwide to grow at a rate of four to five per cent in 2018. This is above the 3.8-per-cent average increase projected for the period 2010 to 2020 by the organization in its Tourism Towards 2030 long-term forecast.

Last week, right here at home, we learned of a new tourism strategy centred on the adventure traveller that we love to host.

For too long, the B.C. government has failed to recognize this significant and important part of the tourism sector. So 19 diverse organizations from the sector produced the first-ever report, titled Regaining the Edge for Adventure Tourism, 2017, on what it brings to B.C.

It found that 2,200 businesses in B.C., mostly small and medium operations, are part of adventure tourism and it generates $2 billion in annual income.

This group has worked to develop a strategy for the sector, which will see it collaborate on a set of shared priorities and issues.

The biggest issue facing this sector is on the supply-side of the equation, these are things like land policy and transportation. Securing access to land and resources is top of the list.

Adventure tourism businesses carried out in-depth interviews, held joint-planning sessions and carried out focused research to try and find a way forward in dealing with the issues.

For the adventure-tourism sector, the main priorities centred around collaboration and alignment. Investigation found there was no roadmap for the sector, no champion for the industry, there was a lack of internal communication, inconsistencies in priorities and lack of collaboration with First Nations.

On the government side, there was inconsistent political and civil service support, no champion for the sector in government, inconsistent decisions, weak legislative framework and policy and also a lack of consultation with First Nations.

Looking at the land-use issue a root concern is that the sector is never given the same respect as other resource sectors despite the significant contribution it makes to the economic engine of the province.

This has to change.

"There is an opportunity to grow the sector by levelling the playing field for these businesses with respect to other resource users," states the report.

It's time for that to happen.