Recreation, entertainment, travel sectors grow in Williams Lake area

British Columbia’s location, bordered by the Rocky Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west, makes it unique within Canada.

British Columbia’s location, bordered by the Rocky Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west, makes it unique within Canada.

Its mountains, opportunities for boating, winter skiing, and other activities such as fishing or sightseeing in coastal or inland waters or experiencing our vibrant cities all make us a world-class destination.

Tourism helps to diversify the economy and also brings new community services to permanent residents. In the Cariboo, visitor numbers have increased, Williams Lake economic development officer Alan Madrigga said.

“When we built the Tourism Discovery Centre, we noticed it stopped traffic.

People come in there to educate themselves, say ‘heh, I didn’t know about that’, and the next thing you know we have people travelling out to the Chilcotin that have never been there.”

Visitor numbers recorded at the Williams Lake Visitor Centre (TDC), gleaned from the Chamber of Commerce over the past several years – show a dramatic increase in the number of visitors compared to the past.

Annual visitors recorded in the previous location were approximately 11,000.

Since the opening of the TDC in the fall of 2006, the annual numbers reached a peak of 33,000 in 2007, and levelled out to a rate of 23-24,000 over the past three years.

“We’ve always been able to keep a fairly flat level, which is good in the terms of sustainability,” Madrigga said of the last few years.

The provincial government’s Gaining the Edge: A Five-year Strategy for Tourism in British Columbia targets revenue growth of five per cent a year that will top $18 billion in tourism spending by 2016.

The fastest growing sectors for tourism job growth over the next decade are expected to be recreation and entertainment and travel services.

In the Cariboo recreation continues to be a large draw.

Madrigga pointed specifically to the growth of mountain biking opportunities and the subsequent increase in tourist numbers as an example of a local success story.

“Mountain biking has been a no-brainer for us. It’s a sector we already have established and have a very positive relationship for, without really doing anything tangible,” he said.

Since 2010, the city has collaborated with the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium to develop and promote mountain bike tourism.

“The positive thing is that you have people on the business side of mountain biking moving it along, rather than the government or the Chamber of Commerce dictating what needs to be done. They’re doing it already,” Madrigga said.

In a sense it’s “economic gardening,” he explained.

“There’s something growing already, let’s water it.”

After several years of slow labour growth, the tourism industry is poised to expand, said Arlene Keis, chief executive officer of go2, B.C.’s Tourism Marketing Strategy.

Labour shortages are already being felt in places like Northern B.C., the Thompson Okanagan and in the Rockies regions. By 2016, the crunch will be more acute throughout the province.

“The tourism industry often provides people with their important first job and sets them on their career path,” said Keis, adding tourism is also the largest employer of youth, with one in four British Columbians under the age of 24 working in the industry.

“This anticipated growth in tourism reinforces the need to plan carefully and ensure that there are enough workers with the right skills in the right communities to meet the tourism industry’s future labour needs.”

Closer to home, in 2006, Census Canada data showed there were 985 people working in tourism in Williams Lake, its fringe area and nearby First Nations communities.