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Cruising Along: International Tourism on the Rise in B.C.

By Kristine St-Laurent

Last year was a memorable one for international tourism in the province, and the first quarter of 2018 is looking even better.  There were 7.9 million international traveller entries to B.C. in 2017, an increase of 3.5%[1] over 2016.  Since 2010, the number of international visitors is up 25% (Figure 1). Tourism is a vital economic engine for the province, with the main tourism-related industries accounting for 12% of all jobs.2]  

Figure 1: International Traveller Entries to BC, 2000 - 2017, (000s)[3]

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators, annual figure

 Figure 2: International Traveller Entries to BC, month-to-month, 2000 – 2018, (000s), seasonally adjusted

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators (latest shown March 2018)

As it happens, 2017 marked a 14-year high for annual international tourism to B.C., which in part is attributable to strategic marketing.  Of the 7.9 million international travellers who experienced our province last year, 5.7 million were overnight visitors, with the other 2.2 million being same-day visitors from the United States.  Americans make up the largest share of B.C.’s visitor profile, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all international travellers. Over the past several years, the province has also seen an influx of visitors from Asia, South and Central America, and Oceania (See Figure 3).  In 2017, B.C. recorded notable increases from key markets such as Mexico (up 12.9%); Australia (20.4%) and China (7.1%). 

More Visitors from China

While the US remains B.C.’s leading international tourism market, the number of Chinese visitors has increased rapidly.  China is now our second largest international tourism market, with the province welcoming over 300,000 Chinese visitors last year.  Even more Chinese tourists are expected in 2018, as January marked the start of the Canada-China Year of Tourism.  The province recently struck a deal with WeChat, China’s largest social networking app, to promote tourism in B.C., which should lead to a further boost in Chinese tourists over the course of 2018. 

Figure 3: International Traveller Entries by Key Markets, % growth between 2010 – 2017, (000s)[4]

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators, annual figures

The growth in international visitors is supported by the expansion of flight capacity between Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and several international cities. Over the last eight years, YVR’s passenger volume has increased by an impressive 36%, as it went from serving almost 17 million travellers in 2010 to 24 million in 2017.  Policy changes, such as the federal government’s decision to lift visa requirements for Mexican travellers at the end of 2016, have also influenced airlines’ decisions to increase flights out of YVR (Figure 4).  

Figure 4: Transportation Indicators, BC Ferries and YVR, 2010 – 2018, (000s)

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators,[5],[6]YVR Annual Reports,BC Ferries Annual Reports

 

Cruising Along: Arrivals by Boat  

BC Ferries has seen relatively stable passenger volumes since 2010.  In 2017, BC Ferries transported 21.8 million passengers on all routes and expects to bump up this number to 22 million in 2018 (Figure 4).   In the fiscal year April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018, BC Ferries set a record for the number of vehicles moved.[3]

Vancouver’s cruise ship market is also on the rise. The Port of Vancouver estimates 895,000 cruise passengers on 241 vessels will visit Vancouver in 2018, a 7% increase over 2017 and a 37% jump since 2010 (Figure 5). Each cruise ship coming into Canada Place represents nearly $3 million in direct local economic activity in retail sales, food and attraction sales (Grouse Mountain Beaver Tails are a big hit with visitors), and other tourism-related spending.

 Figure 5: Transportation Indicators, Cruise Ship Passengers through Port of Vancouver, 2010 – 2018 (000s)

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators, Port of Vancouver Annual Reports[8]

Food & Drink Spending

Not surprisingly, visitors enjoy eating and drinking at West Coast establishments.  Food and drink spending at BC restaurants and bars is up by 36% since 2010, with the largest increases coming in food services (Figure 5). Food and drink receipts include expenditures by B.C. residents, but it is clear the strong growth in tourism is helping to lift restaurant receipts.

 Figure 6: Food Services and Drinking Places Receipts, BC, 2010 – 2017, ($ billions)

 

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators, annual figures

Hotel Spending

Hotels are seeing more rooms filled on a consistent basis throughout the year. On average in 2017, hotel rooms were 70% full across the province – an occupancy rate 10 percentage points higher than in 2010.  The province-wide average rate charged for a hotel room also increased, climbing about $10 per night annually over the last four years (Figure 7).   

Figure 7: Occupancy (%) and Room Rates ($), BC, 2010 – 2017 

Source: BC Tourism Monthly Indicators, CBRE Hotels

Hotel and motel room revenues have also moved higher since 2010.  Vancouver room revenues have posted the most impressive growth, increasing by $250 million in the last eight years (Figure 8). Other municipal jurisdictions such as Whistler, Victoria, Richmond and Kelowna have also experienced solid growth. 

Figure 8: Room Revenues by Top BC Cities, ($ millions), 2010 – 2017

Source: BC Tourism Annual Indicators

2018 Tourism and Beyond

First quarter tourism data released by Destination BC indicates that the industry is already on track for solid gains over 2017.  The province hosted over 1.3 million visitors in the first quarter of 2018, a 7.8% increase over the first quarter of 2017. From the beginning of this year until the end of March, Vancouver and Whistler room revenues exceeded $300 million, up from $225 million during the same period last year.  With the combination of a weak Canadian dollar, a strong US economy, and expanding commercial and travel ties between B.C. and China, the tourism industry is expected to continue cruising along in 2018.  

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[1] BC Stats: Monthly Tourism Indicators.

[2] BC Stats: Monthly Tourism Indicators. Key tourism industries: Air Transport; Accommodation; Food & Beverage Services; Arts, Entertainment & Recreation.

[3] Includes US same-day visitors.

[4] Growth measured between 2010 – 2017. 

[5] The 21.8 million passenger count is taken from BC Stats, while the 22 million count reflects the goal set by BC Ferries to increase passenger volume for the 2018-2019 operating year.

[6] The 24.1 million passenger count is taken from BC Stats, while the 26 million count reflects the goal set by YVR to increate passenger volume to 29 million by 2020.

[7] “BC Ferries posts busiest year ever for vehicle traffic,” Vancouver Sun, June 19, 2018.

[8] The Port of Vancouver estimates 895,000 cruise ship passengers by the end of 2018.