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Comment: Capital region can’t take its appeal for granted

Let’s start with some facts. Global tourism is racing at four per cent growth and is the fourth-fastest-growing industry on the planet. Canada is lagging at two per cent.

Let’s start with some facts. Global tourism is racing at four per cent growth and is the fourth-fastest-growing industry on the planet. Canada is lagging at two per cent. Our country has fallen from seventh place to 18th place in international arrivals in less than a decade and has seen four million fewer visitors from 2002 to 2011.

This national trend certainly has an impact on B.C. and our capital city of Victoria. Since 2007, we have seen hotel rooms drop in occupancy by six per cent and room rates fall on average by more than $10.

In 2012, half a million fewer people rode the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry, as well as 8,500 fewer buses than in 2007. As Vancouver is our international gateway, these numbers matter.

Even business at the Victoria Conference Centre has dropped more than 30 per cent since 2007. Yet, there is no denying how amazing a place Greater Victoria is to experience. The natural beauty, diversity of product, history and culture — the list goes on. While we work together to continue to push this message to our key markets, it’s important to note what’s going on around us, or perhaps what isn’t.

Many may not see what’s going on at the national level, and yet it has significant impact for our destination. In Canada, and in the face of fierce global competition for the visitor dollar, we are on the cusp of seeing funding reduced for the Canadian Tourism Commission from $72 million to $58 million by 2014.

This declining trend has already seen the Canadian Tourism Commission pull out of our key market, the U.S. Fifty-eight million dollars may still seem like a lot of money, but here some comparable examples of national budgets for tourism: Ireland, $211 million; Malaysia, $128 million; Korea, $94 million; Switzerland, $80 million. The Australian government spent $30 million in China alone in 2011 to market its destinations.

What else have we done in the face of our tourism decline? Well, we’ve maintained ourselves as a truly expensive destination to fly to and experience. User fees and levies on air transportation add up to $850 million a year. GST on those levies adds another $90 million.

The third layer is the $463 million in GST revenue generated on visitor spending. Read: New money into our economy. The sour cherry on top? We are the only G8 country without a value-added tax rebate for our visitors.

Opportunity is what lies in the weeds of obstacles, waiting to be discovered. For the sake of $78.8 billion generated in economic activity and more than 600,000 jobs nationwide, this opportunity cannot be missed. Now is the time to revisit our aviation and access policies. Now is the time to establish a healthy and sustainable funding model for the Canadian Tourism Commission. We must not continue to take our appeal for granted. The numbers clearly show that these obstacles need to be lessened or one of the major economic drivers for this country, and Victoria, will suffer.

Suffering means job losses, business closures, decreased tax revenues and, just as important, a declining opportunity to share firsthand with the world our amazing landscape, history and culture. Opportunity is knocking loudly; if we don’t answer the door soon, most will eventually stop knocking.

Robert Gialloreto is CEO of the Greater Victoria Visitor and Convention Bureau.