Thomson: Strong tourist season just getting started

As you start to think about your own summer travel plans, consider ‘staycationing’ to explore British Columbia’s varied regions.

In some ways, it feels like summer has already begun in the Okanagan. We’re blessed to live in an area with abundant sunshine, pleasant temperatures, and lots to see and do. Those qualities make Kelowna and area a top choice for travellers to B.C., and it’s already shaping up to be an exceptional summer tourism season.

The latest international visitor numbers show strong tourism growth for the start of 2016. Visitation is up 16.8 per cent during the first three months of 2016 with 121,306 more visitors to the province over the same period last year. The number of international visitors in March alone is up 19.6 per cent over March 2015, representing an additional 50,299 visitors to British Columbia. These figures are encouraging as we get ready for a busy summer tourism season, following a very strong winter tourism season in B.C. as well.

So what’s behind this success in attracting visitors? The low Canadian dollar is certainly helping—not to mention Destination BC’s new international marketing strategy and more direct flights to B.C. The new flights are thanks in part to a 2012 jet fuel tax that was eliminated by government to reduce costs for airlines and give travellers more choice. Particularly notable is the increase in travellers coming to B.C. from Japan and Mexico, thanks to new flights from those countries.

That success is helping to fuel the provincial economy, which is expected to lead the country in economic growth in 2016 and 2017. Each new daily international flight to B.C. creates between 150 and 200 new jobs at Vancouver International Airport. An additional 300 to 400 jobs are created indirectly in the province at businesses such as hotels, restaurants, travel agents and tour operators.

Here in Kelowna, we see our innovative airport officials working hard to gather input on the new YLW Master Plan which will guide the development of the Kelowna International Airport to 2045. Their commitment and dedication to great customer services has already helped attract numerous air travellers, with more than 1.6 million passengers annually— a 6.5 per cent increase since 2013.

As you start to think about your own summer travel plans, I hope you’ll consider ‘staycationing’ to explore British Columbia’s varied regions along with all these international visitors. You can get some great ideas by visiting www.hellobc.com or by exploring the #ExploreBC hashtag on Twitter. Travellers and locals use that hashtag to post photos and information about some of the great places they’ve experienced in our great province.

2015 was a year for the record books and we’re pleased to see that trend continue in 2016. There’s a reason we’ve included the tourism sector in our B.C. Jobs Plan. It provides a job for roughly one out of every 15 people employed in our province—so the more people we can attract, the better outcome for our economy as well as the individuals employed by this dynamic industry.