Penticton is often called a “tourist town”, and rightfully so, especially from the spring and right through October as the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall now bookend an increasingly busy summer of events, beach-goers, wine tourists, and outdoor enthusiasts.
The numbers (from the Tourism Industry Association of BC), tell the story: more than 20 million visitors to Canada in 2017, with total expenditures of nearly $100 billion last year, and more than 735,300 Canadians are employed by tourism and its related industries. In BC? More than $17 billion in revenue in 2016, resulting in provincial tax revenue of more than $1.1 billion.
That is a lot of economic activity, more than any other primary resource industry in the province, with the exception of oil and gas.
On top of the tax revenue, think about the residual benefits that visitors to Penticton and the South Okanagan bring to our communities. How many business owners came here on vacation, fell in love with their surroundings and the amazing quality of life, and decided to move their operations here, or start a new business? We hear this story all the time. Those former visitors buy property, create jobs, and contribute to our cities in many ways.
Many citizens began their careers in tourism and hospitality, learning customer service and other skills that can enhance their career development. Some of this may have been gained through volunteering at the many events in the region or serving on a board of directors for a festival.
We are lucky in this region to have an incredible variety of products to attract visitors. Unique events from the Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival to marathons through vineyards, to Gran Fondo cycling events, to wine festivals and culinary events throughout the year. Outdoor adventure tourism on our lakes and mountains that are gaining international attention. A farm-to-table vibe that attracts world-class chefs to the area, complementing the growth in wineries and wine tourism — the Canadian wine industry’s economic impact is almost $7 billion, according to the Canadian Vintner’s Association.
There are challenges in the tourism sector, from maintaining staffing levels, to affordable housing, to the potential for “over-tourism”, a new buzzword for iconic locations that are overrun with visitors. But if we look at the big picture and the many benefits tourism brings to the region, it’s worth bringing tourism associations, business groups, chambers of commerce, festival planners, and government together to keep the economic momentum moving forward in a positive and sustainable direction.
Kim Kirkham is Executive Director at the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at 778-476-3111 ext. 102.