A growing wave of people is visiting Prince George. The early data collected by Tourism Prince George shows an upsurge in tourists, and it's not the first time.
"For the first half of 2012 we are up 8.2 per cent compared to last year, and last year we were up 14 per cent on the numbers from 2010, so it is compounding year over year, and that is excellent news for our economy and what we are doing to bring people in," said Tourism Prince George CEO Aidan Kelly.
The numbers of people stopping in at the city's downtown Tourist Centre are up so far, the number of hotel stays are up, the amount of reported spending by tourists is also up.
"Places like Vancouver and Victoria as reporting a downturn in tourism revenues, so to be one of the places that is growing is a big positive sign," said Kelly. "It is hard to find anything in the tourism sector that isn't good news, this year."
For the duration of the month of September, the Tourist Centre will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. There are also plans to keep the centre's doors open more in the off-season than the typical operational hours around the province's other tourist information sites. Kelly said "is the travelling public moving through any town on regular business hours? No, so we want to be able to respond to those people" by having an open facility.
The goal is to up-sell the city to the rubber-tire tourist. The ones who are passing through on their way to somewhere else will often pause here, because of our crossroads status and the fact we are the largest dot on any map of the area. Once here, if they have contact with a Visitor Centre ambassador, they can often be convinced to stay longer.
"We are working to move that needle: getting more people to stop for a while instead of going on through, and turning one or two nights into three or more nights."
Kelly said the Prince George Tourist Centre "was one of the Top 10 in the province, for inside visual appeal" and there was ample parking for RVs alongside the building. It was located on a major highway, attached to the Via Rail operation bringing tourists into the city, and located within the city's core.
"The amount of money we are able to pump into the downtown, by directing visitors to restaurants and gas stations, or just from people parking in our lot and going for their own walk to get something to eat, is significant," Kelly said. "And we often see a drop-off by this point in the season, but our staff at the centre are still run ragged. We are hoping to see some really good overall numbers when we have the whole season's stats."
Due to so many tourism-involved companies and agencies involved in the collection of the data, the numbers are always calculated over time. It will be mid-autumn before Tourism Prince George can collect the sharpest picture of the summer of 2012, but even if it holds steady, said Kelly, it was an absolute tourism success.