Tourism Prince Rupert CEO Bruce Wishart was the speaker at the October 19 Chamber of Commerce luncheon and spoke about the 2011 tourist season, projections for the 2012 season and some of the challenges facing the industry.
According to Wishart, this past year was one of the best in recent history in terms of tourism.
“It was an incredibly good year, quite a bit different from 2009 and 2010. Hotel receipts are at a 10-plus year high, and part of that is the numerous conferences that were hosted…But at least half of that is the number of overnight leisure travelers coming along the highway or by ferry. The numbers are up about 13 per cent for visitor info centres along highway 16,” he said, noting that 2009 saw a 10 per cent drop in room revenue due to the economic slowdown and 2010 saw another drop.
“Just because we had an excellent year, though, doesn’t mean everyone had a great year…Bed and breakfasts didn’t meet their targets for this year because they attract a different clientele than hotels. So while hotels are up, bed and breakfasts were hurting this year.”
Among the challenges faced by the industry in 2011 were the high Canadian dollar, which Wishart said could be stronger in 2012 according to analysts, the high rates on BC Ferries and the closure of the recreational halibut fishery in September.
“We have no way of measuring how many trips were cancelled in September. I spoke with one operator who said he had about a dozen cancel when the halibut fishery was closed, including a couple who come for three days at a time every year,” he said.
“That was a case of incompetence over conservation.”
Looking ahead, Whishart says next year should be another good one on the North Coast.
“We should see room numbers high in 2012, we should see visitor numbers high and we have to look at how to capitalize on that,” he said, adding that a revised visitor guide, a new website and an upcoming mobile application are initiatives Tourism Prince Rupert are working on for visitors.
“Give or take 200,000 people per year travel through Prince Rupert every year and they have a certain expectation, millions more are exposed to the Prince Rupert tourism product via the web and they have different expectations, so we have to manage how we present Prince Rupert’s message to the world.”
However, he did note that the loss of the weekly cruise ship will have an impact on operators in the community.
“The loss of the weekly ship – we put a dollar value on the ship, but the dollar value doesn’t tell the whole story. For some operators that is all, or a very large part of, their annual reliable income,” he said.
Tourism is estimated to bring $200 million per year into the local economy, according to Wishart.