The provincial Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skill Training is touting a rise in province-wide tourist numbers last year, but according to local authorities in the Columbia Valley, tourist numbers here are essentially on par with what they were lasty ear .
Although December figures were unavailable, the ministry said that international tourist numbers for January to November2016 were up 12.2 per cent from the same time frame in 2015, to a total slightly more than 5.1 million.
Tourist numbers did not experience a similar rise in the valley, according to visitor centre managers here, who said that,given the beating Alberta’s economy has taken in the past couple years, they are pleased to just see visitor figures holdsteady,
“Basically, our stats compared with last year are identical. At the end of the year (in December), we maybe had a few morevisitors than normal, but nothing standout,” said Columbia Valley visitor centre manager Kathy Tyson. “We are actually quitehappy with that, though, since most of our visitors come from Alberta and we all know what the financial situation there islike.”
Tyson said that although the Columbia Valley Visitor Centre does get its fair share of international visitors, they are arelatively small component of the overall number of visitors.
“What was interesting last year, for international visitors, was that usually the tourists we get from south of the border tendto be from close by, northern states, such as Montana, Idaho or Washington, but last year it was really diverse. They seemedto be coming from all over — we had visitors from Florida, Texas, Tennessee and other places like that,” she said.
At the Radium Visitor Centre, Tourism Radium manager Kent Kebe outlined a similar position.
“Our numbers for January 2017 are the same as they were from January 2016, but both those figures are lower than whatwe saw in January 2015,” said Kebe. “But overall for 2016, we were pretty well bang on what we had in 2015. I thought wedid pretty well to hold on. It will be interesting to see what this year brings.”
More specifically, Kebe said the Radium Visitor Centre recorded 33,625 parties (which equates to 73,566 people in 2015),and then 30,673 parties (which equates to 67,159 people) in 2016.
“So that’s people that are actually talking to a visitor centre counsellor. Those numbers were slightly down (in 2016). But forour door counter (which measure the number of people who walk through the Radium Visitor Centre’s front door), thosenumbers were slightly up (in 2016). Overall it works out to pretty much the same (as in 2015),” said Kebe.
The ministry, in a press release put on in late January, pointed to the growing number of visitors from China to B.C, asbeing one of the factors driving the growth in province-wide international tourist numbers, citing an 18.5 per cent increasein visitors from that country, following on the heels of several new China-to-Vancouver routes developed by domesticChinese airlines last year.
“Tourism is a key economic driver in B.C. and the latest numbers show that more than five million international visitorsselected British Columbia as their destination of choice last year. This data shows the impact that our tourism industry hason our economy, creating jobs and helping to keep B.C. diverse, strong and growing, ” said Minister of Jobs, Tourism andSkills Training Shirley Bond in the release.
Destination British Columbia chief executive officer Marsha Walden pointed to increased air capacity from other countries,including China, as another of the factors propelling the tourism industry, saying “increased air capacity and access fromour major international airports supports tourism growth in B.C.”
Vancouver Airport Authority president and chief executive officer Craig Richmond, agreed, saying 2016 was an incredibleyear of growth for the Vancouver airport and that it “became the airport leader served by the most number of mainlandChinese carriers within North America and Europe with the launch of Xiamen Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines.”
The ministry added that the B.C.’s tourism industry employed more than 127,700 people in 2015, and that B.C.’s tourismindustry is expected grow more than any other province’s in 2017.
For more information on the latest tourism statistics for 2016, visit: http://www.destinationbc.ca/Research/Industry-Performance/International-Visitor-Arrivals.aspx.