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Visitor numbers down for B.C.

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Tourism B.C. optimistic that industry will continue to grow

There are signs that the B.C. tourism industry, after enjoying a decade of growth and prosperity, may be slowing down. It hasn?t stopped, it definitely hasn?t reversed, it?s just not going as fast as it used to.

"B.C. has experienced a slowdown in growth in international arrivals during the second quarter, compared to the same period last year," said Rod Harris, president and CEO of Tourism B.C. "We have seen this pattern of slowed growth from international markets in other parts of Canada, such as Alberta. However, the more aggressive competitive provinces are gaining an advantage, including Ontario and Quebec where growth in the first six months (of 2001) has been 6.7 per cent and 3.0 per cent respectively, compared with a 1.9 per cent growth for B.C."

In other words, competition from other Canadian provinces may be eating into B.C.?s slice of the international tourism pie.

In June, travel to B.C. actually declined slightly, by 0.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2000.

It?s really not that bad when you consider the rain and the fact that the U.S. and Canada are facing the possibility of an economic recession.

Nevertheless, American tourists continue to be a growth factor in B.C. tourism with overnight visitors increasing by 3.1 per cent to 1,565,935 for the first half of 2001. By way of comparison, the same sector grew by 1.4 per cent in 2000. The U.S. currently accounts for 75 per cent of all overnight customs entries to B.C., contributing hugely to the total of $9.5 billion in tourist revenues generated by 22.4 million visitors to the province last year.

Tourism is currently the number three industry ? by revenue ? in the province, behind forestry and energy.

The Asia-Pacific market sector declined slightly by 0.1 per cent to 398,978 for the first six months of 2001, compared to the previous years? figures. The number of visitors from Japan and Taiwan decreased by 2.4 per cent and 15.9 per cent respectively. Australian tourism grew by 8.1 per cent, South Korean tourism grew by 10.5 per cent, and Chinese tourism grew by 21.4 per cent.

The European market sector also declined by 3.3 per cent to 192,717 for the first half of the year. The number of visitors from the United Kingdom increased by 1.9 per cent to 100,139, while the number of tourists from Germany dropped 10.4 per cent to 34,744.

"We believe that one of the reasons the U.S. market continues to hold steady is due to the success of the B.C. Escapes program in targeting that market," said Harris. "The results from the extended spring 2001 campaign to date have been extremely encouraging. We are up in every category that we measure, including inquiries, and most importantly ? bookings."

Over 62,000 people inquired about B.C. Escapes in the first six months of the year, a growth of 20 per cent over the previous year. Bookings in the same timeframe have increased 25 per cent, to reach almost 13,000.

Tourism B.C. also released its 2000 Annual Report, which highlighted some of the Crown corporation?s other successful initiatives:

? A Tourism B.C. marketing investment worth $7.8 million was increased to $21.7 million through strategic partnerships within the tourism industry, indicating that the industry has a high level of confidence in the organization;

? The spring 2000 B.C. Escapes program produced $43 million in tourism revenue on an investment of $5.4 million;

? The Travel Media unit ? which tracks mentions of B.C. in major publications around the world and attaches a dollar value to the exposure ? tracked more than $82 million in unpaid media coverage worldwide;

? The Super, Natural British Columbia Reservation and Information Service saw a total of 71,945 bookings in 2000, from more than 332,000 inquiries.

"Despite intensified competition, our industry continues to see sustained growth, largely because of the foresight shown in the creation and support of the unique industry-led model for Tourism B.C.," wrote Michael Duggan, the chair of Tourism B.C.?s Board of Directors, and the general manager for the Pan Pacific Lodge in Whistler.

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