There’s been a large jump in the number of international tourists visiting B.C. in 2016, a trend that local visitors centres are seeing out here in the Columbia Valley.
The latest provincial visitor numbers, according to a recent provincial Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training press release, show that number of international visitors (which includes American tourists) is up 16.2 per cent compared with last year — an increase of 39,246 visitors.
Both Visitor Centres in the valley told The Echo they’ve seen an increase in international tourists, although the Columbia Valley Visitor Centre reported just a slight increase, while the Radium Visitor Centre reported a significant increase.
“Last year at this point, we’d had 45 international visitors, if you include Americans, and so far this year we’ve had 51, so we’re up a bit,” said Columbia Valley Visitor Centre manager Kathy Tyson on Thursday, May 5th, adding that the flow of such visitors has increased recently, with a three having arrived that day, and another three having arrived the day before.
“All of them were Americans heading to Alaska and, in terms of international visitors, that’s typically what we get (at the Columbia Valley Visitor Centre) — Americans heading up across the border, through Banff and Jasper on their way up to Alaska,” said Tyson.
She added that although Americans make up the bulk of the centre’s international visitors, they do see tourists from other parts of the world.
“We always get a good group of Germans. They are typically young and travelling all around Canada, and last year in particular, there definitely seemed to be quite a lot of visitors from the Netherlands,” she said, adding the Visitor Centre at the Crossroads also sees a number of tourists from Japan and China, and gets its fair share of visitors from Australians and New Zealand.
Tourism Radium manager Kent Kebe told The Echo that although most of the Radium Visitor Centre’s tourists come from Alberta or other parts of B.C., it has seen a jump in the number of international tourists so far this year, with 552 parties of international visitors (360 of them, or 55 per cent, American) having stopped in at the centre from January through April 2016, compared with 339 such parties (232 of them American) in January through April 2015 — a 53 per cent increase.
The centre gets an average number of 2.2 visitors per parties, so in terms of individual visitor numbers that translates to 1,214 international visitor so far in 2016 compared with 792 in the first four months of 2015.
“It’s quite an increase, and it’s been absolutely busy here,” said Kebe. “I think it has a lot to do with the low Canadian dollar, especially for the Americans.”
Kebe said that, similar to the Columbia Valley Visitor Centre, the Radium Visitor Centre gets a healthy dose of Europeans.
“There are a lot of Germans,” he said. “We always know the tourist season has truly started when we starting seeing Germans and Swiss.”
Many of the European visitors are interested in outdoor activities such as hiking. This early in the season, Kebe said the Visitor Centre often has to tell them that while the grass may be green in the valley bottom, most of the best hiking trails in the mountains are still snowbound.
In addition, the Radium Visitor Centre also sees a decent number of people from Australia and New Zealand, added Kebe.
The Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training press release also points to the low Canadian dollar as a reason for the increase in international visitors in B.C.
“The latest international visitor numbers back up what we’ve been hearing from communities across the province — they are having record-breaking seasons,” said provincial Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond in the press release.
In the press release, Destination BC chief executive officer Marsha Walden says the increase in international visitors is “proof that British Columbia’s vast and powerful nature, spectacular cities, fabulous snow conditions and great value for money are big draws for our friends south of the border.”
In 2015, 4.9 million international visitors came to B.C. — a 7.9 per cent increase compared to 2014.