Travel statistics show sharp decline in visitors to B.C. 

The most recent tourism statistics tell a grim story for B.C.

International overnight visitors to B.C. in March were down 13.3 per cent over March 2002.

And for the year to date the numbers show a decline a 4.9 per cent over the first quarter of last year.

As previously reported in the Pique Whistler experienced similar decline with overnight visits down eight per cent for the winter season and 18 per cent in April, compared to last year’s figures.

The resort’s biggest decline came from the long-haul East Coast U.S. and Canadian markets.

For B.C overall the decline in the U.S. market was also significant.

The Tourism British Columbia figures show a decline in overnight customs entries of 12.4 per cent, to 200,694 entries in March from the U.S.

"We are now seeing the evidence of world events on travel to B.C.," said Mike Duggan, chair of Tourism British Columbia.

"The start of the war in Iraq in mid-March has now clearly had an effect on international visitation, not just in B.C., but throughout Canada and around the world."

The U.S. is by far Canada’s largest international market. Last year over 16 million visitors came to Canada from America, spending over $8.5 billion.

These trips supported 174,000 full and part-time jobs in the travel industry with total earnings over $3 billion.

Travel spending by Americans is projected to increase 5 per cent this year to $555 billion, according to a study by the United Nations International Labor Organization.

But this year's figure will still fail to match 2000's total of $570 billion, indicating the severity of the downturn that has afflicted the tourism industry the past three years, both because of 9/11 and the economic recession.

Safety and financial concerns have caused U.S. tourists to stay closer to home, says the UN study, resulting in a steep decline in foreign travel. Canada's flow of tourists from the United States and other countries has dropped 19 per cent.

While U.S. residents may not have been holidaying here, they were holidaying.

Statistics released by Colorado Ski Country USA show a 4.29 per cent increase in skier visits, to 11.6 million, during the 2002-03 season.

Helping to boost those numbers was great early season snow allowing many resort to open early and a feeling by most Americans that they wanted to stay close to home once war with Iraq broke out.

Nation wide, U.S. resorts hosted 57.6 million skier visits, according to preliminary figures from the National Ski Areas Association. If those numbers are confirmed it would be a record, surpassing the 57.3 million skier visits recorded in the 2000-01 season.

Customs entries from the Asia/Pacific into B.C. also declined 12.6 per cent compared to March 2002 totalling 47,633 entries.

Japan showed only a slight decrease of 0.2 per cent to 18,961 entries compared to the same month last year.

However, the Banff Crag and Canyon is reporting that Japanese tourists are cancelling tours to the area in droves over fears about SARS.

In May 2002 JTB International looked after 491 Japanese tourists said the Crag and Canyon. This May the company had only 120 booked. Last June JTB brought in 629 clients. This month the tour-company expects to host only 120 Japanese travellers.

The biggest drops in Asian tourism come from South Korea (11.5 per cent), Taiwan (27.9 per cent) and Hong Kong (34.4 per cent).

Despite these declines there are positive notes when you look at year-to-date increases over the first quarter of last year. China is up 4.2 per cent, Australia is up 15.6 per cent and India is up 58.4 per cent.

In some cases though these gains only bring the numbers up to pre September 11th numbers.

In March entries from Europe to B.C. also decreased 12.9 per cent over 2002 to 22,963 with the U.K. and Germany, B.C.’s largest European markets, down 18.7 per cent and 8.8 per cent respectively.

Mexico showed a sharp decline for March but the numbers are likely due to the fact that that Easter was in April this year, one of the most popular holidays for Mexicans travelling internationally.

Meanwhile the number of Canadians travelling to the United States has reached a 15-year low, according to a recent report from Statistics Canada.

Canadians made 13 million overnight trips to the U.S. last year, down 4 per cent from 2001. That was the lowest figure since 1987.

The number of overnight trips peaked in 1991, when the Canadian dollar was worth 87 cents (U.S.) and cross-border shopping was the rage. But Canadian currency then began a long slide to the low-60-cent (U.S.) range, and Canadians found that their purchasing power was greater in other countries.

There is hope that this summer may see an improvement as the Canadian dollar has rebounded in recent months, closing in on 75 cents (U.S.) by mid-June.

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