Sooke News Mirror
The convention centre was full to capacity with delegates who came for the 2012 Tourism Vancouver Island 49th Annual Conference and AGM at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort.
The sold out event featured keynote speakers, plenary and concurrent sessions and local community activities.
Keynote speaker at the lunch on Wednesday afternoon was MLA Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.
His address focused on the changes coming globally which will affect tourism in British Columbia. He said there is as much change coming in the next five to six years as there has been in the last 35 years.
“It will be the largest shift of capital that has ever happened on Earth… it is happening every single second,” said Bell.
He was referring to the economy in China, India and Korea and the impact and opportunity it will have on tourism. He said in about eight years, the Chinese economy will surpass that of the United States.
“There are 300 million middle class Chinese looking to go for a great holiday.”
In their own country, he said, they live on top of each other and they are looking for those very unique experiences we have to offer.
“Change is on us and it is happening at a pace never seen before,” said Bell.
He said it was crucial for British Columbia to capture that value presented in front of us. To be successful and compete in tourism, we need to be aggressive, he said.
His number one message was to really think about the change occurring on the planet and to build new strategies.
“Figure out what it is you do better than anyone else… and stay very, very focused on core values.”
He mentioned our strengths and differences in the tourism industry that could set us apart from the other countries that compete for tourist dollars.
Areas where British Columbia shines are in winter sports such as skiing, all-season conventions, aboriginal tourism, eco-adventure tourism, city states and touring.
He said no one comes to British Columbia specifically for aboriginal tourism, but about 35 per cent of those experiencing part of that culture plan to return for it.
The wide open spaces and scenery in the province sells very well to upscale tourists who can afford a better vacation.
“As nice as it is to stand on top of a mountain, some would rather get there by helicopter,” said Bell.
Bell recognized some of the problems faced with BC Ferries and he said the province is spending $70 million to reduce fare increases.
He said a goal has been set to build tourism into an $18 billion business and this could be accomplished because of the massive shift of wealth and the fact that “we are perfectly located.” In 2012 there was a 26-27 per cent growth in Chinese tourism. Bell said it was important to be more culturally aware and how to present to the Chinese market, as this would be the next wave of tourists coming to B.C.
His final recommendation was, in order to protect “small business” it was important to participate and join in with associations such as chambers of commerce and tourism associations.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver West-End and the NDP Critic for Tourism, Culture and Gaming, spoke earlier Wednesday on the future of tourism as the opposition sees it.
He said Tourism BC should be brought back to an industry led formula funded body.
“Instead of bureaucrats and politicians running it,” he said.
He also called for better support for the BC Parks system along with arts and culture. He had concerns around ferry fares and the impact it has had on tourism in B.C.
He said people has a “hunger to see what the NDP would do” in regard to tourism. He said the Sooke area had it all — everything from culinary, eco, historical, cultural and marine tourism.
“The area has it all, it’s good for the residents, it’s good for tourists.”
When asked what the NDP would do, he said said the last three years under this government has been chaos, the HST is hurting tourism and small business and local tourism need to be heard.
“We need to reinstate the industry leadership so industry can plan more than one year in advance,” he said. Better skills and training are needed to will ensure young people or older folks can change occupations later in life. Affordable education is needed in these cases, he said.
“Tourism is challenged regardless of government,” he said.