Feature - Tourism industry facing challenges 

Three years ago, before the dot-com boom went bust, when terrorism was something that only happened in far away places, and computer technicians were searching for new ways to spend some of the $750 billion US they "earned" preparing systems for the Y2K problem, tourism looked like a pretty healthy industry.

It doesn’t look quite so promising at the moment.

From 9/11 to bankrupt airlines to the SARS outbreak, the tourism industry – like many others – has faced some substantial obstacles in recent months. Despite these global uncertainties, the provincial government has challenged the B.C. tourism industry to double in size by 2010. Tourism in British Columbia generated $9.3 billion in economic activity in 2002, making it B.C.’s third largest industry.

Whether the industry can be at $18 billion in seven years remains to be seen, but the province has announced several tourism initiatives recently to get the world thinking about vacations in B.C.

Last week Rick Thorpe, the Minister of Competition, Science and Enterprise, was in Toronto for a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial tourism ministers and the Canadian Tourism Commission. Next week the CTC will launch a $5.4 million marketing plan that will, in British Columbia’s case, add funding for marketing to Seattle and San Francisco.

The tourism ministers will meet again this weekend in Vancouver to discuss plans for boosting marketing to the Asia-Pacific region. New federal money may be available for the effort.

Earlier this year the province allocated $500,000 for regional tourism associations around the province and the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. Last month Victoria provided another $750,000 to Tourism B.C., bringing the provincial government’s support to $1.25 million to help the industry respond to global challenges.

Those figures don’t sound like much for a $9.3 billion industry – and they aren’t. But Tourism B.C. is not a ministry, it’s a crown corporation, and has been since 1997. The corporation is funded through a percentage of the provincial hotel tax revenue, which means the more hotel rooms sold the more revenue the corporation has for marketing. Tourism B.C. spent $24.2 million on marketing activities last year.

But marketing dollars are only one aspect of boosting tourism. Thorpe and people in the airline and tourism industry are trying to convince the federal government to make travel less expensive, like doing away with the $14 airline security fee imposed after 9/11. The fee has been a bone of contention to the industry since it was introduced. With the U.S. government suspending its airline security fee in an effort to boost tourism over the summer, industry officials are hoping the Canadian government will do the same.


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