I prefer to vacation closer to home in the summer months given the endless choices, familiarity and appeal of BC destinations, relative ease of access, good weather, and multiple other factors. While I have often visited different countries at this time of the year, exorbitant prices, overcrowding, smoking hot temperatures, and other issues have made me less inclined to travel internationally until the so-called off-season.
At the same time, by holidaying in BC during the summer, I’m competing for hotel rooms, flights, restaurant and ferry reservations, tee times, and other amenities that out-of-province tourists also need.
As you likely know, some 60+ percent of international visitors to British Columbia arrive during the months of May, June, July, August and September. For some of the same reasons I like to travel in the province during the peak season, people from other parts of Canada and the world also prefer to visit over this five-month period.
Yet for years our industry has talked about the need to shift or attract more visitors outside of the summer months. In fact, the recently introduced Federal Tourism Growth Strategy – Canada 365 – that Minister Boissonnault spoke about earlier in the week in Vancouver and Whistler notes that by welcoming more visitors in the shoulder and winter seasons and encouraging travel to lesser-trafficked regions and destinations, we can align Canada’s visitor economy with sustainability and regenerative tourism goals and avoid the social and environmental impacts of over-tourism at certain destinations.
I should point out that Destination BC has also incorporated the goal of year-round travel and to lesser known places around the province as part of its corporate strategy, as have many regional and community DMOs. And they’ve been doing so for years. Notwithstanding there are already many tourists that visit BC over the winter for business, to ski, and myriad other activities, the notion of further seasonal dispersion is both strategic and necessary but the question remains…can federal and provincial visitation goals outside of the peak summer months be achieved anytime soon?
Some suggest we can’t count on any substantial increases to the number of visitors beyond the summer because of fewer flights, inaccessible highways/poor infrastructure, competition from sun destinations, nasty weather, seasonal staff availability, and many other reasons. While there may be an element of truth to that, from my perspective it shouldn’t stop Canadian and BC communities/regions from continuing to pursue a seasonal dispersion strategy, even if only for the sustainability reason referenced in the Canada 365 Strategy.
Moreover, with a strong provincial/federal partnership, a dedicated focus on advocacy, sufficient marketing resources, and a coordinated strategy to develop new products, bolster transportation infrastructure, among other priorities, many of the aforementioned obstacles can be overcome and opportunities leveraged to grow tourism well beyond the May to September period. Although it won’t be easy or quick, there appears to be a greater willingness on the part of senior governments to make it happen by 2030 or sooner.
So far in 2023 I’ve travelled a lot within BC by car, ferry, plane and train. I can attest firsthand that it’s not as seamless as it used to be because of heavy traffic, constant delays due to road work, highway closures, wildfires, flight and ferry cancellations, and other issues. Because of my personal travel experiences this year and from what I hear in communities and from members, I’m even more motivated to advocate aggressively on files such as transportation and infrastructure to help with seasonal dispersion and other tourism industry needs.
Although I’m still planning to visit my favourite BC haunts this summer for vacation, I may consider shifting some of my travels to the shoulder season to avoid some of the challenges I referenced earlier. The activities I choose may be slightly different because of the time of year, but it could ultimately be an even more positive experience overall, not to mention bolstering support for tourism operators at a normally slower time of the year.