Tourism in B.C. expected to reach record levels again in 2019

When it came time to book his family’s summer vacation, Vancouver was at the top of Vincent Jongenelen’s list.

The family of five from the Netherlands wasn’t disappointed. During a recent whale watching tour, they saw five humpback whales in the waters just outside of Vancouver.

“It’s a nice mix of the beauty of nature, the mountains, the ocean, as well as a big city, a vibrant city,” he said after stepping off the boat on Granville Island.

The Jongenelen family is among six million international tourists expected to visit B.C. this year, according to Destination B.C., which forecasts a total of 23 million trips to or within the province.

The number of tourists visiting B.C. in 2019 is expected to set a new record and will likely increase in the years to come, said Maya Lange, vice president of global marketing at Destination B.C. Many of these tourists come from the United States, United Kingdom, China and Mexico.

“Around the world, British Columbia is known for its authentic wilderness and nature, our vibrant cities surrounded by nature, our incredible experiences people can have around the province,” Lange said.

“So I think it’s just really a desirable destination right now.”

Social media generating interest

Social media has also fuelled tourism, Lange said. The hashtag #ExploreBC has now been used over five million times by local and international travellers to share photos and video of their adventures.

Some businesses are making changes to meet the demand of bigger peak season crowds while trying to limit their impact on the environment.

Whale watching companies have increased the size of their boats over the years and are steering clear of the endangered southern resident killer whales, said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, communications director for the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

“When you can take 100 people on one boat versus the same number of people on 10 boats, you’re having less of an impact on the animals, less of an impact on the environment, and it gives a better experience for our guests that come out on the boat,” he said.

Destination B.C. has also moved away from promoting tourist hot spots to focusing on the roads less travelled.

The organization’s last social media post related to Joffre Lakes, for example, was in 2016, and you won’t find any references to the popular and often over-crowded destination on their website.

Tourists will instead find information on being responsible and safe while camping, or stories of adventures to be found in northern B.C.

For locals or international travellers trying to avoid the crowds, Lange suggests thinking outside the box at what the province has to offer.

“There’s so much to see in northern B.C., in the Kootenays, on Vancouver Island, all the little islands,” she said.

“We have so much to offer here. The crowds, they may be in some of our urban centres, but we’ve got lots to offer around the province.”

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