What’s blocking growth in tourism industry

The chair of the political wing of B.C.’s tourism industry is calling the federal government’s new tourism strategy a very small start with big hurdles ahead of it.

Alroy Chan, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. and director of corporate development for Rocky Mountaineer, applauded the federal plan for making money available for product development, but stressed there are more pressing issues facing tourism.

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In the association’s monthly newsletter, Chan said there are several barriers to tourism growth. They range from the need for significant investment in infrastructure to improve access to key destinations in the winter (and to rural areas any time of year) to a labour shortage and a lack of investor confidence that has led to hotel shortages in the country’s biggest cities.

“I’m supportive and thankful the federal government is showcasing and spotlighting tourism as a driver for economic growth and a path to create middle- class jobs … but we need help with the right investment in the right areas,” Chan said in an interview.

He said the tourism industry, which has not received much federal attention over the years, appreciates the fact that the government wants to target funding in the areas of winter travel, Indigenous tourism, rural experiences, culinary visits and LGBTQ2 visitors. However, he argued the government has to address the bigger issues for the plan to be successful.

When pressed for a priority for government help, Chan said the labour shortage and the related problem of affordable housing would be at the top of his list.

Improving access to foreign workers to fill the growing labour gaps in the industry is something the federal government could do without much cost while having a massive impact, he said.

The federal strategy, unveiled last week by Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly, is designed to boost international visits to Canada during non-peak seasons by more than a million people and to get visitors to see the country beyond Canada’s biggest cities.

It includes $58.5 million over two years to help communities create or improve tourism facilities and experiences, with the expectation it will create 54,000 new jobs and help tourism revenue grow by 25 per cent — to $128 billion — by 2025.

When it was unveiled, the industry embraced the new plan, with operators and consultants saying it was nice to see the federal government coming to the table with financial support and recognizing the industry as an economic driver.

The federal government estimates tourism generates $102 billion in annual economic activity in Canada, supporting 1.8 million jobs and accounting for more than two per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Anthony Everett, chief executive of Tourism Vancouver Island, applauded the strategy for its goal of product development in rural areas.

He agreed with Chan that money is needed to help build air-travel capacity, particularly to rural areas, and to improve winter transportation infrastructure around the province.

“If people aren’t able to fly in, easily rent a car and have the experience they want in winter, that is a problem and needs to be addressed,” Everett said.

But his chief concern remains product development, which he hopes might get a boost with the government’s pool of money.

“In those rural communities and even on Vancouver Island, we don’t have enough product to make us globally competitive,” he said, adding the funding needs to be available quickly and without a lot of bureaucratic mess. “We’ve done a lot of marketing. It’s now time to start building up product.”

In his newsletter piece, Chan agreed with this, noting he is all for ambitious goals.

“I know growth and success are important to all of us, but I see a number of issues standing in our way. Growing our industry’s revenues by 25 per cent is going to involve more than simply funding tourism operators and businesses, and I hope all levels of government will work together with the tourism industry to tackle these complex issues,” he said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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