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POPHAM: B.C.’s tourism industry a resilient economic driver

Lana Popham, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Tourism Week is a time to reflect on and celebrate one of British Columbia’s most vibrant and essential industries. Tourism is more than just a sector, it’s the heartbeat of our province and communities, and at this very moment, people all over the world are planning to visit our world-class destination.

B.C. is recognized for its stunning landscapes and mountain ranges, the Pacific coastline, vibrant arts and cultural events and attractions, and authentic Indigenous experiences. But it is the more than 154,000 passionate individuals who work in the tourism industry who uphold our reputation as a must-visit destination. From tour guides and transportation providers to hotel staff, visitor centres and restaurant staff, each person is integral to the visitor experience. People working in the tourism industry showcase the best of B.C. and enrich the visitor experience, often turning tourists into ambassadors who share their stories with friends and family in all corners of the world.

Tourism is one of British Columbia’s greatest economic drivers, generating more than $18 billion in revenue in 2022 and contributing $7.2 billion to our provincial GDP. That’s more than any other resource industry, including forestry ($1.7 billion), agriculture and fisheries ($3.4 billion), oil and gas ($4.5 billion), and even mining ($5.4 billion). It’s also one of the largest employers in the province and is mostly made up of small businesses (92%) and people who have dedicated their lives to the sector.

An integral and deeply enriching part of B.C.’s tourism industry is Indigenous tourism. We know visitors are increasingly seeking sustainable travel opportunities that help preserve, rather than degrade, natural spaces. Through experiences such as storytelling, guided nature and wildlife viewing tours, Indigenous tourism not only educates but also fosters respect and appreciation for the traditions and histories that have shaped, and continue to shape, this land. The growing number of Indigenous-led tourism businesses and interest in authentic experiences is a testament to the richness of Indigenous cultures and the importance of reconciliation.

B.C.’s tourism industry is not without challenges. Together, we have worked to recover from a pandemic while facing the pressures of inflation, workforce challenges and recent climate-related events such as wildfires, flooding and drought. When there’s a crisis in B.C., it affects the tourism sector and the people who care about it. But because people in the tourism sector are so resilient, we’ve seen tremendous progress towards recovery and increased optimism across communities, tourism businesses and people interested in visiting British Columbia.

Domestic and international flights are bringing visitors from every corner of the world. Events and festivals have returned. Hotels are filling up. We had a record-breaking cruise ship season last year, and our world-class hospitality and attractions continue to be the reason people want to visit B.C. over and over. A new cruise ship season has started, and we are expecting another record 1.27 million passengers in Vancouver in 2024, and another 300 ships that will visit Victoria. And for the first time in five years, the Port of Nanaimo is preparing to welcome cruise ships this season.

We will continue to work together to rebuild so we are even better than before. This includes new short-term rental legislation to create a better balance between homes for people, including tourism workers and visitor accommodations, and hiring and retaining skilled employees who are needed for businesses to operate at full capacity.

We have a lot to look forward to this year. With more than 1,100 fairs, festivals and events receiving support this year, hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout the province will travel, stay in accommodations, and contribute to local economies.

We remain confident about the future of tourism in B.C., thanks to the thousands of people throughout the province whose ongoing commitment to excellence elevates B.C.’s reputation as a world-class destination. This industry not only fuels our economy, but also enriches our culture, cares deeply for the environment, and continues to offer unforgettable experiences. Please join us in celebrating Tourism Week and the beauty of Super, Natural British Columbia.

Lana Popham, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport

Walt Judas, CEO, Tourism Industry Association of BC

Brenda Baptiste, board chair, Indigenous Tourism BC

Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO, British Columbia Hotel Association

Richard Porges, president and CEO, Destination British Columbia