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vancouver 2010

The Olympic rings sit on a barge in the foreground as cranes in the loading area at the Port of Vancouver sit idle March 16, 2010.Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's big tourism oomph that was to follow the 2010 Winter Olympics has, so far, turned into more of a damp squib.

For the first eight months of 2011, the number of overnight international visitors to the province was actually down by more than 200,000, compared with a similar period for 2009, the year before the Olympics.

Across Canada, meanwhile, visitor numbers have dipped only marginally from 2009.

As she unveiled a new five-year plan to bolster tourism, Premier Christy Clark acknowledged on Tuesday that it was time to ditch the pre-Olympic predictions of her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, although she did not mention him by name.

Mr. Campbell, whose rampant, red-mittened, Olympic boosterism became a national talking point, had vowed the Games would double tourism revenue in the province by 2015.

But Ms. Clark has scaled that down to a more modest 5-per-cent annual growth over the next five years.

"It's a little bit of a reduction in the plan," she told reporters in Victoria after taking the wraps off B.C.'s new tourism strategy, called Gaining the Edge.

"[Our target is still]pretty ambitious, but it's a little more realistic, I think, than the last one was. It recognizes that the world economy is in pretty tough shape, so I think we need to be more real about the goals we set."

Walt Judas, vice-president of marketing communications for Tourism Vancouver, agreed that hopes for a significant post-Olympics spike in tourism have yet to be realized.

"There's been no big Olympic bump. We had certainly wished for higher figures," Mr. Judas said.

All in all, however, given the state of the world economy, it could be a lot worse, he added, noting that Vancouver's convention-centre business is at record levels, in large measure because of publicity from the Winter Games.

"Other places have seen dramatic declines, so, without the Olympics, it could be a lot worse."

But NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said the Liberal government squandered the chance to reap a post-Olympics windfall of visitors.

"We have seen a drop in tourism, while the rest of Canada has seen an increase [during the second quarter of 2011]" Mr. Herbert said. "If we had spent our marketing money properly, we'd be outperforming the rest of Canada. We're not."

He pointed to B.C.'s controversial harmonized sales tax, which he claimed has led to a slump in attractions such as dude ranches, and the province's decision six months before the Olympics to scrap Tourism B.C., an independent committee of tourism representatives that devised marketing plans to attract foreign visitors.

Tourism Minister Pat Bell said previous predictions fell victim to both the recession of 2008 and the current economic turmoil.

"The world has changed, and I think we need to recognize that. We can lament about it. We can pretend it didn't happen, and do things the way we've always done them," Mr. Bell said.

"Or we can move forward with a brand new strategy, and I don't think anyone should be critical of us for trying to do that … The slight reductions we have seen are nothing compared with what we're seeing in the United States and Europe."

With a report from Canadian Press in Victoria

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