British Columbia’s tourism industry is expecting a boost from international travellers this year, as the sector’s recovery from the pandemic picks up pace.
With travel restrictions lifted and supply chain challenges and staffing shortages improving, international travellers are once again journeying to the province, tourism industry observers say.
“The international market is coming back. And Canada is well positioned for this, because it’s considered to be a safe destination with lots of interesting things to see and do,” said Brian White, a program head at the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University in Victoria.
That’s a good thing because international travelers spend more time and more money on a destination, said Mr. White.
“You want to maximize your exposure to international tourism.”
Not all tourism markets are returning: Destination BC noted in its Outlook Report from earlier this year that the number of visitors from China is unlikely to recover to the pre-pandemic level until 2026. The agency blamed limited international flight capacity.
But it also said flight bookings to the province are higher overall than they were last year.
“It isn’t really until they’re on the ground that we begin seeing and tracking and monitoring who’s actually going where,” said Erin Hodgins, Destination BC’s director of research and analytics. “It’s too early to say, but we’ve heard some good accounts that, you know, across the province, we are seeing bookings.”
In 2022, the tourism industry was mainly reliant on domestic travel, according to Ms. Hodgins. Domestic tourists accounted for about 80 per cent of overnight visitors to the province.
Destination BC predicts that number will decrease to 75 per cent this year, as more international travellers arrive.
Sue Kaffka, the VP of sales and marketing for the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a popular destination near Vancouver, sees the trend first-hand. Last summer the park’s visitors were mostly from Canada and the U.S. This year, she has already observed more international guests.
“It’s not as robust as it once was. But we’re seeing Europe come back, Australia is starting to show up quite strongly,” Ms. Kaffka said.
“For years, the economy has suffered from no tourists,” she said. “I think people really understand the value of it now, and how much we depend on tourism.”
In 2019, the tourism industry in B.C. brought in $22.3-billion. In 2021 (the most recent data available from Destination BC) it was down to $13.5-billion.
Statistics Canada noted in a report earlier this month that air arrivals by both international and Canadian travellers were up in April significantly, but the rates are still below pre-pandemic levels. International travellers, including those from the U.S., visited Canada by air in April, 2023, at a rate one and a half times that of April, 2022.
There were twice as many Americans coming to Canada by car over the same period and the numbers had almost caught up to pre-pandemic levels.