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B.C. tourism on a roll ahead of summer season

2017 was a record year for tourism in Vancouver, with more than 10.3 million overnight visitors, an increase of three per cent over 2016.
Stanley Park and other local tourist attractions drew a record-breaking 10.3 million people to the city in 2017, according to Tourism Vancouver | Rob Kruyt

2017 was a record year for tourism in Vancouver, with more than 10.3 million overnight visitors, an increase of three per cent over 2016.

It was the fourth consecutive record-breaking year, a run that can be attributed in part to advertising initiatives in key markets worldwide and strategic partnerships with local travel destinations and centres.

Over the past several years, Vancouver has seen an influx of visitors from Australia and Mexico due to improved flight services, and 2018 looks to be no different.

“Australian travellers have grown quite substantially; they are now just behind the U.K., which has always been one of our largest markets,” said Ty Speer, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver. “There is an enormous growth in flight capacity between Vancouver and a number of cities in Mexico.”

The growth in visits from Mexico can also be attributed to the federal government lifting visa requirements, Speer said.

Vancouver’s cruise ship market is also on the rise as more passengers opt to spend time in the city after choosing it as their starting point or final destination.

Vancouver has quickly become known as a convention city, and 2018 will likely be the strongest business year ever for conventions, Speer said.

Vancouver hosted its 98th Vancouver International Auto Show this year, and the event’s attendance surpassed 120,500, which beat last year’s record-setting total of 115,600.

Unique events such as Vancouver Fashion Week have also posted strong attendance numbers.

“In terms of foot traffic, we have over 30,000 people attending our shows,” said Vancouver Fashion Week founder Jamal Abdourahman.

This year the city will host an array of major sporting events, including the NCAA Vancouver Showcase, the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating and, starting at year’s end, the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Vancouver might also attract more Chinese tourists this summer because 2018 has been designated the Canada-China Year of Tourism.

The Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre on West Broadway reported a 400% rise in the number of guests from China this year compared with the same period in 2017. Of the record-breaking 10.3 million visitors to Vancouver last year, 300,172 were from China – up 7.1 per cent from 2016, according to Tourism Vancouver.

Hotel general manager Simon Lam attributed part of the success to the joint tourism inititative between China and Canada, and noted a concerted effort by the management of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which runs Vancouver’s Holiday Inn hotels, to cater more specifically to that demographic in the last few years.

“We have been participating in IHG’s ‘Zhou Dao’ program since it was just a pilot in 2014,” Lam said, “and based on the comments we’ve received, Chinese guests have mentioned that they felt more at home with some of the things we’ve included.”

Tourism Vancouver has said Canada is featuring heavily in Chinese state media this year as a travel destination, with more exposure than ever on television and online platforms. In addition, the local tourism organization has been aggressively engaging Chinese “influencers” – celebrities like actor Guo Tao and his son – to act as the city’s tourism ambassadors in a number of online videos with wide distribution on Chinese social media.

Another boost came in January, when WeChat, China’s largest social networking app, with 900 million users, struck a deal to promote tourism in B.C., further heightening the expectations of a new Chinese tourist wave this summer.

But Vancouver is falling short in tourist accommodations.

“Our hotel growth is not keeping pace, and we’re fighting to keep hotels and, in some cases, not winning that fight, as you have seen,” said Speer.

The announced closure of the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver was a difficult blow, Speer said, adding he thinks the city needs to find new ways to keep hotel space, or risk stagnation.

“Our hotel supply challenges are very real, and they are very now. We really need to be thinking hard about what conditions and what environment we need to create to stimulate more hotel development and preserve the hotels we have.”

– With files from Chuck Chiang