Low dollar bringing more visitors

Visitors centres will retain their funding from the province, and with more tourists taking advantage of the low Canadian dollar...

Visitors centres will retain their funding from the province, and with more tourists taking advantage of the low Canadian dollar, that will make hosting them easier for Kristina Gervais, executive director of Tourism Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of American visitors now,” she said.

With the Canadian dollar hovering around 75 cents U.S., the annual visits to her office on Harris Road in Pitt Meadows have increased from 8,000 to 9,300 per year.

That 16 per cent jump is ahead of the province as a whole, where the number of visitors from outside the country grew by 5.3 per cent, or 234,000 visitors.

Destination B.C., the province’s industry-led destination marketing organization, announced the three-year base funding model for the 108 community visitor centres it helps support.

The strategy includes a new minimum base funding of $10,000 annually for the next three years for small and rural community visitor centres – like the one in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

There will also be an innovation fund available in 2016 to assist communities with projects that help them adapt to the changing needs and expectations of visitors, such as new technology.

“That is great news, we’ve been waiting to hear this for a while,” Gervais said. “It allows us to hire summer students to work the visitors centre.”

It is part of the organization’s base funding, which also includes $35,000 from each of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Taking advantage of grant applications and funding sources like a visitor’s guide, the budget for the centre is about $120,000 per year – which makes it a small operation.

Tourism is big business in B.C.

In 2013, the industry generated $13.9 billion in revenue, paid $4.5 billion in wages to 132,000 employees, and accounted for four per cent of the province’s total gross domestic product. One job in 15 is in the tourism sector.

Whistler has an annual tourism promotion budget of $17 million, Tourism Langley gets about $500,000 per year, and Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows get by on about a quarter of that.

“With the little resources we have, we get the biggest punch possible,” said Gervais.

She said visitors come for outdoor experiences like Wildplay and horseback riding.

“And we have spectacular trails and parks here,” she added.

In addition to the outdoors, festivals remain a key to attracting visitors, with the Caribbean Festival one of the biggest.

A strategy this year is to sell Maple Ridge’s attractions to the people who live here, so that when they host visitors, they can entertain them close to home, said Gervais.

“Keep your visitors here, rather than take them into the city.”

They will have a booth at the festivals, and other events, aiming to promote area attractions to visitors and locals.

“We can help you find some really cool adventures.”