You often hear that tourism is a lynchpin of the economy, both for the province overall and specifically for our Thompson-Okanagan region.
But what does that really mean? As an industry, is tourism truly vital?
In a word, yes. The numbers for tourism’s economic impact are staggering.
Tourism has a $1.75 billion economic impact every year in the Thompson-Okanagan.
What about Kelowna and its surrounding communities?
The Kelowna area’s share is an estimated 1.2 million visitors every year, generating $610 million of economic activity.
The overwhelming majority of those visitors—about one million—stay for at least one night.
That’s crucial, because overnight visitors tend to spend a lot more money than “drive-through” tourists.
For example, in 2006 visitors spent some $346 million at Kelowna area businesses, including hotels, restaurants, stores and attractions.
Impressive as those figures are, they’re actually growing—and at a faster rate here than elsewhere in B.C.
In the past decade, hotel revenue has increased by 33 per cent across the province, but by 55 per cent in the Thompson-Okanagan.
That’s a very significant difference of 22 per cent.
That $346-million in economic activity translates into 9,800 jobs in the Kelowna area—and 60,500 in the wider Thompson-Okanagan.
In Kelowna, that’s 13.7 per cent of all economic activity.
But the economic ripple effect of tourism extends far beyond those 9,800 jobs.
The incomes and thriving businesses also contribute greatly towards provincial and local government revenues, which in turn go towards things like education, police and infrastructure as well as things like broadband funding for rural communities, Innovative Clean Energy projects, and community gaming grants for sports and cultural groups—all funding announcements I’ve had the privilege of making recently.
In short, tourism and the revenue it generates contribute very directly to improving our quality of life.
It’s important we continue to support and promote our tourism industry to ensure it continues to grow.
With that in mind, it’s encouraging to see all the interesting news coming from our tourism industry.
Many very talented people are hard at work developing some fantastic new destination properties.
Provincial, regional and municipal tourism boards are keeping pace with some innovative—and fun—planning and marketing programs to help and support tourism businesses as they grow and prosper.
Tourism Kelowna’s new product development and marketing programs for golf, wine, arts and agri-tourism, along with the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association’s regional tourism strategy development process, are just some examples of this.
The provincial government is keenly aware of these projects and has been very supportive, as evidenced by Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell’s visit with the Tourism Kelowna board on Monday.
I’m excited to see what they come up with.
Our continued economic vitality depends on it, and in many ways, so does our quality of life.
Norm Letnick is the Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country.