Whistler has role to play in shaping tourism's future 

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Tourism was back in the news last week, with the provincial government's long-anticipated announcement that it was re-creating a Crown corporation, run by the industry, to market the province. Destination B.C. sounds very much like Tourism B.C., the Crown corporation the Liberals scrapped just a few months prior to the 2010 Olympics for reasons which were never adequately explained.

The unveiling of Destination B.C. on Nov. 5 was upstaged by the NDP's announcement on Nov. 2 that it too would create a Crown corporation, led by the industry, to market B.C. as a tourism destination. It was the closest the NDP has come to a policy statement since Adrian Dix became leader.

The Destination B.C. announcement builds on last year's updated five-year tourism strategy, called Gaining the Edge, which the Liberals unveiled as part of their B.C. Jobs Plan. Gaining the Edge reconfirms the goal set by former premier Gordon Campbell back in 2003: to double tourism revenues in B.C. from $9 billion to $18 billion by 2015. That target was reconfirmed in the province's 2007 Tourism Action Plan.

Gaining the Edge, the new tourism plan, sets 2016 as the target date to reach $18 billion annually.

It's an ambitious target. Gaining the Edge says tourism revenues need to grow five per cent annually to meet the $18 billion target in 2016. The 2007 Tourism Action Plan stated: "There are... significant challenges to doubling tourism revenues by 2015. The annual cumulative growth rate for the tourism industry has averaged 2.5 per cent, and it will take an enormous amount of work to increase that to an average 6.5 per cent over the next nine years, including a growth spike to nine per cent in 2010."

And how have tourism revenues been doing? According to BC Stats the numbers are:

$9.799 billion in 2003

$10.717 b in 2004 (+9.4%)

$11.465 b in 2005 (+7%)

$12.208 b in 2006 (+6.5%)

$12.928 b in 2007 (+5.9%)

$13.351 b in 2008 (+3.3%)

$12.576 b in 2009 (-5.8%)

$13.169 b in 2010 (+4.7%)

$13.354 b in 2011 (+1.4%)

It's actually quite an impressive performance, and was on target until the recession hit. There aren't too many industries that could post year-over-year growth every year but one in recent times. However, it's still a long jump from $13.354 billion to $18 billion in five years.

For some context, Alberta is hoping to grow tourism revenues from $5.5 billion to $6.5 billion by 2017. We all recognize that Alberta is not in the same league as B.C. when it comes to tourism but it may be helpful to know what our neighbours are trying to achieve, particularly as Alberta's oil patch continues to woo labour with wages that are out of reach of most tourism businesses.

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