Tourism Prince George looking to encourage local visitors

Canada celebrated Tourism Week last week, but tourism operators have had little to celebrate this year because of travel restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism Prince George CEO Tracey McBride said tourism is a major industry in the province, employing one in 11 people and contributing an average of $7 billion to the B.C. economy. Nationally, tourism is a $22 billion industry.

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"Obviously we know that tourism has been one of the hardest-hit industries," McBride said. "Definitely the tourism industry needs extra support."

Restrictions on international travel, such as B.C.'s requirement for anyone entering the province to self-isolate for two weeks and the federal ban on cruise ships entering Canadian ports, will have a local impact, McBride said.

"(But) we do get a lot of British Columbians, Albertans and some from Ontario," McBride said.

While 70 to 80 per cent of visitors tend to be domestic travellers, Prince George typically sees American tourists driving to Alaska and a small, but significant, number of Europeans interested in adventure travel, she said.

"About two per cent, we get that German market. They tend to do fly and drive," she said. Those international travellers tend to stay longer and spend more, meaning even though they may only make up two to three per cent of the total number of visitors, for some tourism operators they make up 20 per cent of their revenue.

Tourism Prince George is working locally with the City of Prince George and Chamber of Commerce on the SupportPG initiative to encourage local people to support their local restaurants and other businesses as they reopen. The agency is also working with Destination BC on promoting travel within the province this year.

"We're keying up for mid-June for Phase 3 (of the B.C. Restart Plan)," McBride said. "One thing we are looking at with Tourism Prince George is doing some staycations. We're working on a couple packages. We want to incentivize our own residents to have a full night out. We're hoping to have that ready June 15."

Many tourism operators are getting ready to reopen in anticipation of Phase 3 of B.C.'s restart plan launching later this month, she said, but communities also have to be ready and willing to welcome visitors. Some of the smaller towns in northern B.C. have be discouraging visitors to prevent COVID-19 from being introduced to their small communities.

If there is any silver lining for local tourism operators, it is likely to come in the form of increased provincial travel. British Columbians who may have normally planned to travel to the U.S. or other international destinations may look at staying closer to home over the next year, she said.

Tourism Prince George and Destination BC will be working to promote that intra-provincial travel this year.

"We're certainly trying to think outside the box," McBride said.

For more information, go online to The visitor information centre on First Avenue is expected to open on July 1.

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