OK tourism golden

More economic good news is coming out of a sector that is vital to the Okanagan — tourism.

In 2018, Canada experienced a second consecutive record-breaking year for tourism, welcoming more than 21 million tourists for the first time ever.

In B.C. alone, international visitor arrivals increased 13.8% in April 2019 compared to April 2018.

Total tourism revenues in 2018 from domestic and international travelers were $102.1 billion, an increase of 5.2% over 2017.

And the tourism sector is a job generator, supporting 1.8 million jobs — the largest employer of youth and a major source of employment for new Canadians and permanent residents.

It's the concerted effort of our communities and those who support the creation of cultural experiences for visitors, as well as regional organizations like the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) that have made the Okanagan and Canada a destination of choice.

It's worth noting that TOTA, which represents business and community tourism interests throughout the region, was named 2018's winner of the prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow Destination Award.

TOTA is also assisting regional Indigenous communities with tourism development and leading the way in sustainable tourism, developing a regional Charter of Sustainability — the first of its kind in North America, and seeking Biosphere Tourism Certification as a sustainable destination — the first destination in the U.S. or Canada to do so.

But not all regions have the advantages we do. Without an award-winning wine sector or resorts like Big White, other Canadian communities are finding it a challenge to realize the economic benefits of tourism.

Since 2016, federal budgets have provided concrete measures to accelerate the tourism sector's expansion.

At the same time, historic investments have been made in developing the transportation, communications, social and cultural infrastructure that enables the industry's growth.

Here at home, we have welcomed direct federal funding support for local arts and culture events, museums and galleries, infrastructure, recreational facilities, and popular attractions like the Okanagan Rail Trail, all of which enhance the visitor experience in Kelowna-Lake Country and generate revenues in the local economy.

Additionally, the federal government has developed a tourism growth strategy, in tandem with provincial and territorial strategies, to unleash the potential of tourism, recognizing that every community has something to offer and can aspire to be a destination.

Budget 2019 established the Canadian Experiences Fund, a $58.5 million investment fund that will support development of products and experiences that play to communities' strengths and entice international visitors to look beyond the usual destinations and the summer season.

By putting the focus on communities that take advantage of their unique cultures, heritage, and locations, the government of Canada, in partnership with all levels of government and the private sector, is giving Canadians the tools to show the world what our country has to offer year round.

This will enable growth in the tourism sector, and drive economic growth and job creation in all regions for many years to come.

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About the Author

Stephen Fuhr was born in Edmonton, AB and grew up in Kamloops, BC. He is a former CF-18 fighter pilot with the Canadian Air Force.

After serving with distinction for 20 years, Stephen retired from the Canadian Forces in 2009 with the rank of Major. He joined his family’s Kelowna-based company, SkyTrac Systems, which develops aviation communication and tracking equipment. As CEO and Director of Business Development, he led the company to financial success in a challenging economic climate.

In 2012, Stephen left the company to pursue his first love of flying.

With growing interest in politics and a desire to serve his country again, Stephen ran for office in the 2015 election.

Today, he proudly serves as the Member of Parliament for the Kelowna-Lake Country riding. 

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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