Tourism industry looking for more from new government 

Money for marketing, reduced taxes on airline travel, more open skies policies needed

Despite SARS, 9/11, Avian flu outbreaks, floods, and forest fires, tourism was hardly an issue in the election just past.

B.C. Liberal candidates proposed moving the federal tourism office to B.C. but it’s not clear if that is party policy or if a minority government will be able to fulfil that promise.

But a number of industry leaders are still determined to approach newly elected officials to explain the importance of tourism to the economy and to show how the money generated by increased tourism could help fund other areas, such as health care and education.

Randy Williams President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada painted a grim picture and said the government’s response to the plight of the tourism industry in recent years has been "placid at best".

"The tourism industry since 2000-01 has been on a downward trend, but the last two and half years has been abysmal.

"It’s been really challenging because we’ve lost 5000-10,000 jobs in tourism, we’ve lost market share in the world, dropping from ninth to 11 th , our travel deficit has increased from $1 billion to $3 billion, so there’s been a number of things happen.

"We’ve been performing poorly and that’s why our industry needs the government to recognize the importance of it and support it, so they can get a return on their investment."

To begin with Williams and the TIAC have asked for an extra $25 million to help bolster the tourism sector.

"We’re hopeful that a minority government under a new prime minister will be more responsive and will be able to look at tourism as a key engine for economic development, like many other countries have done.

"There’s a need to invest in tourism marketing and partnerships within the tourism industry, getting the private/public sector working together is going to be critical in allowing government to expand revenues to pay for health care and education.

"The $25 million would be for the Canadian Tourism Commission so they can market Canada, and that would be leveraged with another $25 million from the private sector.

"But cutting us back $5 million like the Liberals have done in the last two years, at the worst possible time, is certainly not seen as being very understanding to our needs."

Mary Mahon Jones, CEO of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C., agreed that more money was needed to market Canada.

"What we’re looking for is two issues," said Mahon Jones.

"The first is to ensure there is funding for tourism marketing and then we want some real movement on the air issues, both on international and domestic policy.

"Before the election we did see some promising statements from the tourism minister.

"We just released a report before the election that the air travellers security charge has cost B.C. alone $73 million… but the security charge is just one of many additional costs that go on top of the traveller’s ticket.

"There’s excise taxes, there are NAV-Canada fees and these significantly add to the cost of the ticket, and this hits the tourist industry more than anything because it hits the lower cost ticket.

"These taxes go up as much for the higher priced tickets as they do for the lower priced tickets, and when you’re travelling most people are looking for the lower priced ticket.

"The other thing we’d be looking for would be – there’s a term called fifth-freedom-rights, which allows air carriers to travel between two countries and stop off in a third," she said.

"This would enable Vancouver International Airport to become a gateway airport because Vancouver is actually the closet geographical site between North America and Asia.

"So if we could get the fifth-freedom-rights change then we could lure a number of North American airlines to take advantage of that and open up more flights and more markets for our tourism industry.

"We also need more open-sky policies because we’ve got one – with the United States – but that does not include fifth-freedom-rights, so we don’t think even that arrangement is particularly good.

"The U.S. has over 50 (open-sky policies) with lots of different countries and at the very least we would like the one we do have to be better."

Barrett Fisher, president of Tourism Whistler, said her organization will also be lobbying for better air services in and out of Canada.

"Both the Liberals and Conservatives made a commitment to the importance of tourism as an industry prior to the election," said Fisher.

"Tourism Whistler will now be following up with our re-elected regional MP to ensure Whistler's, B.C.'s and Canada's collective tourism interests – such as increased air access into YVR, development of the Pemberton Airport, and federal investment into world-wide marketing of the Canada brand – are well understood and supported federally."

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