While many travellers and families are planning their summer vacation, we learn about the growing tourism industry and who is there to greet them. One industry leader explains how technology is rapidly growing, but the online platform does not outshine human interaction.
Tourism Vancouver says the city set a record in 2016 with more than 10 million visitors. Not only that, but it says tourism generates about $14.6-billion in revenue for the province.
“We were, I think, quite consistent with the rest of the country in that 2016 was great for us, we saw overall growth of just over seven per cent, and what’s great about that is that was building on a terrific year in 2015 as well.”
President and CEO of Tourism Vancouver Ty Speer says the industry will continue to soar due to the variety of experiences the city has to offer.
“Whether you wanna be in a big city urban environment… restaurants and museums and so forth, or whether you want to push a bit further out and take advantage of the fact that we are on nature’s doorstep and we can offer everything from serious hardcore adventure to what we might call a softer adventure right on the edge of the city,” he says.
“That breadth and depth of experience I think is really really important and that’s what people are looking for when they travel; they want to experience new things, they want to do new things, they wanna be able to talk to their friends and share experiences on social platforms and compare notes about what they’ve done.”
Technology influencing ‘best destinations’
Speer says these days there’s one big factor contributing to travel in terms of where people choose to go.
“The use of technology as an influencer of people making travel decisions is absolutely enormous, whether that’s doing travel research and pricing on travel sites like Expedia or Booking.com, or whether that’s looking at Trip Advisor for recommendations, or going onto Facebook and seeing what your friends are talking about, and sharing photos about, or Instagram, or SnapChat, or hearing things on Twitter.”
With travel showing up everywhere in the online space, Speer says it’s now a fundamental part of how sales and marketing are handled for various destinations.
However, he says, like in any industry, there are worries that are out of the hands of tourism leaders.
It comes down to two main factors. The first: macroeconomic conditions.
“We are an industry of course that relies on people to have available time and available discretionary income. When people are feeling good and comfortable about their lives, they’re more comfortable taking vacations, and of course when they’re worried about paying the mortgage and school fees and the bills, or they’re worried about their job they don’t. So at the moment, we’re at a good economic window, there’s nothing to suggest that that’s gonna change, but of course, we don’t control that agenda.”
But the other, he says, is unexpected events in the world such as acts of terrorism.
“Those are things again not under our control, but they’re the macro risks that should worry any tourism worker anywhere.”
Seeking more personal experiences
Speer says what the industry can control is influencing people to travel, especially inviting tourists to come to Vancouver.
He says at the end of the day, it comes down to creating new experiences and stronger connections.
“The vast majority of tourism is ultimately about people being with people. So whether that’s two spouses going on a trip because they wanna spend time some together that they don’t get in their busy lives, or families travelling together so children can experience new things or independents travelling together who want to arrive at a destination and meet locals. All of those things are still very, very real and very, very fundamental parts of tourism, so while the various digital things that are out there are tools to get jobs done, they don’t replace what people are looking for in terms of making connections, or reinforcing those connections with friends and family,” he says.
They also don’t replace the experience that a traveller has in a destination.
“Nothing on their phone or on a computer screen is gonna make up for the fact that you got bad service or, in the opposite case, you were met by a friendly welcoming face that said ‘Hey, I’m thrilled that you’re in Vancouver, how can I help you?’ That will always be there and will always be vital to us delivering what we can think is the right thing for our visitors when they come here.”
Going off the beaten track
Speer says there are trends that attract tourists as well that allow them to really understand how their destination functions day to day, and explore different neighbourhoods.
“People that are looking for off the beaten track experiences, not on the automatic, I suppose tourist book list of ‘go do these top ten things,’ they’re really looking for individuality, they’re looking for locality, they wanna see things that not everybody has, and in many ways that’s enabled by technology. People like to go on social media platforms and say, ‘hey I did a special new thing, you should check it out.'”
Speer says he feels the tourism industry is well positioned as a growth industry for the future of Canada, and that while their target is five per cent growth this year, the challenge now is to continue to give tourists reasons to choose to come to Vancouver out of all the many places in the world they could go.