Opinion

Stewart: B.C. still the best destination

Ask any elementary student the best way to find out something you don’t know, and they’ll all tell you the same thing—ask somebody who does know.

It’s good advice then, and it’s just as useful today.

For that reason, I often meet with local stakeholders.

They know better than anyone what’s happening and what matters to the local economy—and more to the point, how we in government can help.

Tourism is a case in point. You already know it’s a huge part of the provincial and regional economy. How huge?

In 2010, the tourism sector employed 127,000 British Columbians, generated over $13.4 billion in revenue for tourism-related businesses, and contributed over $1.2 billion to provincial government revenues.

Locally in 2011, the Central Okanagan employed 7,100 direct jobs and generated sales of $279 million with 1.5 million visitors making tourism the third largest economic generator in the Central Okanagan behind construction and manufacturing.

These aren’t just impressive figures; they are crucial for B.C.’s economy.  And those figures are projected to increase.

Nearly half of the 101,000 job openings in B.C. will be new jobs created by the tourism industry across the province, adding 44,220 more jobs to the provincial workforce by 2020.

The other approximately 57,000 openings are due to replacements, such as retirements.

In other words, the continued health of our tourism sector is crucial.

In a recent meeting with the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, we discussed ways for the city and the Okanagan to better capitalize on our tourism opportunities.

There’s no question the opportunities here—the Okanagan Lake, wine country, championship golf, champagne powder skiing—you name it—are among the best in the world. The trick is getting more people to come here and enjoy them.

There have been some notable successes, including more direct international flights to and from Kelowna.

More than anything else, though, the Chamber wanted to collaborate more closely with government to increase and market our incredible tourism opportunities.

I’m very pleased to say they will have that chance. On Monday, our government announced the formation of a new industry-led Crown corporation. Destination BC will work in direct collaboration with stakeholders and market B.C. tourism.

That sounds great, you might be saying to yourself, but what does “direct collaboration” mean?

The six regional marketing associations, including Thompson Okanagan Tourism, will be represented on a tourism marketing committee.

This committee will advise the board on marketing priorities, provide input into marketing strategies and performance indicators, and work to develop joint campaigns with Destination BC and the private sector.

It’s important to note this is no short-term contract; on the contrary, Destination BC is a long-term investment. Established on Nov.2, it will take full responsibility for operations on April 1 of next year.

For the first year of operations, Destination BC will receive the full funding government has used for tourism marketing.

After that, funding will be set based on a percentage of annual sales tax activity and enshrined in legislation.

I know I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with—and a lot of new faces visiting the Okanagan.

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