Editorial 

Do we know enough about ourselves?

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A headline on the front page of the Vancouver Sun last week stated: "2010 Games tourist boom set at $75b," but also warned in a subhead that Canada must spend more on tourism promotion in order to compete globally.

The story quoted Randy Williams, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, who pointed out that globally, the tourism market is growing by four to six per cent annually, but Canada’s share of the tourism market is only increasing by three per cent per year.

Williams went on to say that the continued decline in U.S. visits to Canada must be addressed, and suggested that the passport requirement – which doesn’t go into effect until 2008 – may be contributing to Americans’ reluctance to visit Canada.

This week, R.M. Torre, an American who spends a third of the year living in Vancouver, wrote that Williams is "woefully uninformed, confronts reality by ploughing his head in the sand or prefers to deal in falsehoods rather than address issues." Torre suggested four reasons for Americans avoiding Canada: the exchange rate "deterioration"; rising fuel prices; poor pursuit of the cruise ship business; and "the constant U.S. bashing, so in vogue in the Canadian press and at the urging of the Liberal party…"

So, we have on the one hand a tourism professional painting a picture of great times ahead if we just put more money into marketing and convince Americans to get passports, and on the other hand we have an American who spends a lot of time in Canada saying the tourism pro doesn’t understand his market. It makes you wonder if tourism is that simple, or if people in the industry really understand what they’re dealing with.

We in Whistler are in this industry, but looking at some of the stories and letters in recent weeks, you have to wonder if we really understand that. And just as importantly, do we realize how competitive this business is becoming?

Williams pointed out how Canada is behind in the highly competitive international tourism market. Whistler is in a province where government policy for the last couple of years has been to encourage resort development. There is and there will continue to be increased competition for visitors among resorts in B.C. at a time when the largest foreign market has been declining. It’s not just mountain resorts that Whistler is competing with and it’s not just skiers and boarders we are trying to entice.

While understanding the competition is part of the equation, we also need to improve our understanding of our own situation. The business community, including Tourism Whistler, has been trying to make the point that more needs to be done to boost tourism business, but many still don’t seem to fully grasp the situation. That’s partly because there is little solid data available in a timely manner. There are lots of anecdotes and if you talk to enough hotels, retailers and tour operators – and if they are honest with you – you can piece together an assessment. But there is no up-to-date statistical information that shows how the whole town is doing on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. Most of us are extrapolating anecdotal information and making guesses about the financial health of the resort.

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