Tourism Victoria and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce used the release of the national chamber’s list of barriers to economic success as a chance to fire a shot on behalf of the beleaguered tourism industry.
While the national body listed its top 10 barriers to competitiveness — including skills shortages, productivity and tax structure — the local groups took the opportunity to push for improved marketing, better tourism products and easier entry into the country in hopes of spurring tourism.
“Canada has slipped from seventh to 18th place among the world’s tourism destinations in less than a decade,” said Tourism Victoria CEO Rob Gialloreto.
He said the barriers to Geater Victoria’s $1-billion industry has a ripple effect throughout the city.
Both organizations are calling for more money for tourism marketing, saying the national budget does not compete with countries around the world. They are also calling for government action on the high cost of air travel to Canada and the difficulty in getting travel visas.
As they stood along Victoria’s Inner Harbour on Tuesday, Greater Victoria Chamber CEO Bruce Carter and Gialloreto said the tourism product mix in the city needs investment and improvement.
Carter said the mix has seen little addition in the last 10 years, while it has lost a major player in the Royal London Wax Museum, witnessed the death of the B.C. Experience and seen little investment in new product anywhere. “We need attractions visitors can get to. We need to look around at the product we have, determine what we need and work on getting it,” Carter said.
Darrell Bryan, president of Clipper Navigation agrees. “Victoria needs something more than a Burger King and a 7-11 … you can find that anywhere,” Bryan said of recent additions to the downtown core. “There needs to be more attractions. We bring a lot of families up here and it’s one of the selling points for Victoria, which is seen as a safe, walkable city that’s friendly to Americans.”
As for improved marketing, the call is for help at all levels, though most of it will likely fall at the feet of the province.
Last year, the federal government announced the Canadian Tourism Commission, Canada’s tourism marketing agency, was losing 20 per cent of its funding and would see only a $58-million budget next year. That meant the CTC would pull out of advertising in the U.S., Canada’s largest international tourism market, and focus efforts on strategic markets.
Though neither Carter nor Gialloreto would wade into where money ought to be spent specifically, the companies that transport tourists to Victoria’s Inner Harbour said the answer is clear. “Given 75 per cent of our visitors used to come from the U.S., it would seem opportune to focus on those near markets,” said Ryan Malane, director of marketing for Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the Coho between Victoria and Port Angeles.
What was 75 per cent is now closer to 55 per cent, according to figures from Tourism Victoria.
But Malane said there has been some increase in the last year as companies like Clipper and Black Ball have increased their own marketing efforts.
“We are concentrating on what we consider the lowest hanging fruit, the regional near markets,” Malane said, noting they see great potential for continued increases in numbers. “But only if we continue to pay attention to those markets.”
Bryan, whose company spends about $1.5 million a year to market Victoria and the region, said it seems destination marketing organizations have abdicated some of the responsibility for selling destinations like Victoria to American markets.
“Frankly, I’m pissed off about it,” Bryan said. “But I’m passionate about this, and I see potential and I just wish people would start working together and pushing in the same direction.”
Carter said perhaps the easiest step any government could take to improve things for tourism is around the access issue, given it would cost the least to loosen the visa application and approval process for emerging markets such as Mexico and China.
Dave Cowan, general manager of Butchart Gardens, said every little bit counts. “The more we speak about tourism as a piece of the economy the better,” he said. “We do need to work together.”
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