Understanding visitor spending in Prince Rupert

We are frequently asked to discuss the value of tourism in Prince Rupert.

We are frequently asked to discuss the value of tourism in Prince Rupert. It’s vital to know how much the industry is worth to Prince Rupert, if we are to understand the return on investment for both Tourism Prince Rupert and for the individual businesses and attractions.

It is complicated, and expensive, to conduct meaningful research into tourism numbers. It was a real opportunity for us when Tourism BC chose to invest well in excess of $100,000 in a specific visitor study in Prince Rupert. We update this, and stay on top of developing trends, but we have very accurate knowledge from the 2007 Prince Rupert Visitor Study. This measured just three months, June through August of 2007, but analyzed our visitors in very great depth.

I’ve talked about this study in the column before, and have mentioned that just over $52 million was spent in Prince Rupert in June-August 2007. I’d like to dig a little deeper into that total.

To begin with, spending is fairly evenly split between leisure and business travellers – about 57 per cent of the spending comes from leisure travellers, visitors who are here on holidays and strictly for pleasure, and about 43 per cent from business travellers. That means that in that three-month period in 2007, $29.7 million was spent by leisure travellers, and about $22.5 million by business travellers.

Considering the leisure segment first, the most valuable groups for Prince Rupert are the general overnight visitors, spending about $8.6 million, and anglers, spending about $16.1 million. Cruise visitor spending totaled about $4.8 million, with two weekly ships that year, and day trips by regional visitors accounted for just under $150,000.

Most of the business traveler spending is grouped under general business travel, with an expenditure of about $22.5 million, but the Visitor Study also broke out cruise ship crew spending for those three months at $1.7 million.

It’s important to realize that even if the specific numbers fluctuate from year to year, the percentages will remain more constant. That helps us understand the industry. This also holds true for the more specific data in the Visitor Study. For example, drilling a little farther into the general business spending, we know that in June-August 2007 the average amount spent each day per traveler is $396. But a business traveler from BC will spend more than this, the traveler from other parts of Canada almost exactly the average, and business travellers from the US and other international destinations will spend considerably below the average. Once again, this knowledge helps us understand and convert on our business travellers.

Now, who benefits from this spending? I’ve heard people speculate that this revenue doesn’t stay in Prince Rupert. I find that mystifying. This is not an industry, such as the resource-based industries, where corporate profits are siphoned into distant shareholders. This is a homegrown industry, and the beneficiaries are for the most part our neighbours.

Bear in mind that these studies measure spending in Prince Rupert. They’re not measuring the cost of the transportation to get here, just the dollars that are going into businesses owned by people who live here, supporting local employment and spinning off into all aspects of the local economy.

I’ve forgotten the exact detail, but many years before my time the Visitors’ Bureau faced a similar situation where residents didn’t perfectly understand how tourism money trickled through the community. They marked a small stack of $5 bills with “this money came from tourism,” and distributed the bills to arriving cruise ship passengers. For months afterward the money circulated, showing up in the tills of businesses, and the pockets of residents, that didn’t see themselves as being in any way related to tourism. That’s the point in all this. Tourism money comes to Prince Rupert, stays and circulates here, and helps sustain our community.