Vancouver's tourism industry was banking on the 2010 Winter Olympics to serve as a springboard to a plateau of prosperity. But the second summer after the mega-event is instead a story of peaks and valleys.
"You really get those big peaks when something's happening in town, there's a good citywide convention, two or three cruise ships come in--boom," Wedgewood Hotel and Spa general manager Philip Meyer told the Courier. "There are those valley periods when not much is going on."
Domestic, American and offshore travellers have been bombarded with reasons to stay home. Not only are there renewed fears of a recession, but the Harmonized Sales Tax, high gas prices and the strong Canadian dollar have taken a bite out of pocketbooks. The West Coast spring and early summer were damp and dim and the Stanley Cup riot tarnished the city's image.
"I know a lot of people are hurting," said Vancouver Trolley Company president Jim Storie. "I look at my numbers and how we've done this year, I think 'thank God for the Vancouver Convention Centre.' If we didn't have that convention centre bringing in all these people we'd be in a lot worse shape than we've been in the past."
Overnight visitors are down three per cent overall to 3.54 million through June, though 2.6 per cent more Canadians and 5.4 per cent more Americans came here that month alone. Tourism Vancouver executive vice-president Paul Vallee said city hotels have averaged 86 per cent occupancy, but admits leisure and family travel is suffering. "We've had a very strong convention year, the best year ever for conventions and that's helping drive business into Vancouver," Vallee said.
There were 8.415 million overnight visitors counted for all of 2010, up from 2009's 8.11 million but well below the pre-recession high of 8.9 million in 2007.
Statistics Canada recorded 1.75 million overnight international and U.S. visitor arrivals to B.C. through June, down 4.4 per cent from 2010. March's mega-quake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown cut Japanese visits by 28.7 per cent, but arrivals from China increased 6.9 per cent.
Vancouver International Airport saw 6.667 million passengers through May, up just 0.5 per cent. Province-wide food and drink receipts fell 4.6 percent to $3.08 million and B.C. Ferries carried 4.52 million passengers on its busiest routes between the mainland and Vancouver Island, 4.1 per cent fewer than a year earlier.
More Canadians are going south to shop and travel. Re-entry through B.C. from the U.S. by Canadians rose 9.5 per cent to 1.7 million. At 1.17 million, there were 3.4 per cent fewer U.S. overnight visitors to B.C. through June. "You don't see that two or three-night Washington state traveller as much as we did in previous years," Meyer said.
B.C. Day weekend, which included the Celebration of Light fireworks and Pride Parade, packed hotels and restaurants. Less than a week later, Hyatt Regency rooms were flogged for $125 a night on a discount website.
The Canadian Tourism Commission's 2008 Leveraging Canada's Games report warned "the world's interest quickly wanes post-Games." In 2003, then-premier Gordon Campbell challenged the industry to use the Olympics to double revenues to $18 billion by 2015. The industry hit $13 billion last year, but Storie isn't confident the long-term goal will be reached. "That's something we were striving for a long time ago, but we've had so many different factors, the world economy, and situations in different parts of the world where people aren't travelling so much," he said. "But you have to be cognizant of the fact that people like to travel and they will find a way to travel."