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2011 a "fairly good year" for tourism, despite global downturn, report says
Tourism Rossland's executive director, Deanne Steven, has released the annual "Resort Municipality Initiative" (RMI) report, which includes data from a variety of sources that help characterize the state of Rossland's tourist economy.
Council received the news warmly. "I appreciate the detail, the data, and the fact that we are holding our own as far as tourism goes when there have been some rough years," Coun. Jill Spearn said at last week's regular meeting. She said the report made it "obvious" that the trail systems benefit the community.
The RMI was developed by the province in 2006 to assist resort-oriented municipalities maintain and grow "a robust regional tourist economy," according to RMI. Specifically, "[RMI] addresses and supports the unique challenges and opportunities faced by small resort municipalities."
Resort municipalities are required to charge an "additional hotel room tax" of 2% at qualifying "accommodation units," the revenue from which is applied to a formula and reinvested in tourism-oriented municipal projects and programs.
Since Rossland joined the RMI in 2007, the program has put $116,585 back into Rossland. Tourism Rossland has allocated these funds to the "wayfinding signage" project that includes two large "Rossland" signs at each end of town, and three smaller "Rossland" signs.
Eight highway signs for the Seven Summits Trail have been placed at 2 kilometres and 500 metres on both sides of the parking lots on either end of this "Epic" International Mountain Biking Association Classic. The signs—erected in partnership with the Kootenay-Columbia Trail Society (KCTS) and the Ministry of Recreation Sites and Trails—will serve both to advertise the trail and direct users to the trailheads.
Following the Columbia-Washington construction, a "whole other level" of signage will be erected downtown with some $35,000 that remains in the fund, Steven said, flexing the industry jargon: tourism oriented directional signage.
A grant from the Columbia Basin Trust also allowed Tourism Rossland and the Rossland Museum to design and install plaques for historic buildings all over town along the heritage walking tour.
Steven's RMI annual report addresses a wide range of topics, from the history of the tourist economy in Rossland since 2007—particularly the effect of the economic crunch of 2008 and beyond—and covers many economic indicators. Perhaps the most intriguing statistics refer to a survey of mountain bikers Tourism Rossland completed last year in partnership with Tourism BC.
Final figures will not be available until Tourism BC returns the final report, Steven said, but "the numbers are likely to be very interesting."
"It was the worst summer ever for mountain biking," she said, recalling the deep snows that stuck around well into summer. "The Seven Summits opened on Aug.18 when it was finally shovelled it out. We need it open July 1. I don't think the report is necessarily going to be reflective of a normal year."
Despite Steven's trepidation, initial results from the 531 people who were interviewed seem promising.
97.3 per cent of respondents were "very likely" to recommend Rossland as a mountain biking destination to their friends and family—half a percent "didn't know," and 2.1 % were only somewhat likely. Nobody had a negative review.
A whopping 75.9 per cent were likely to return to Rossland to bike the following year, of whom 61.5 per cent were "very likely."
The majority of respondents were from BC, but 15 per cent came from Alberta, 6 per cent from the rest of Canada, 15 per cent from the United States, and 7 per cent from other countries. Roughly 39 per cent self-identified as "leisure travellers."
Coun. Jody Blomme was taken aback by the 13.9 per cent who were "very unlikely" to return—"Why ever not?" she asked—but argued to herself that they must live far away and, in any case, they were "very likely" to recommend Rossland as a biking destination.
Other interesting statistics in the RMI report include 2011 accommodation revenue of $2,520,666, taken from the Additional Hotel Room Tax data. This is similar to previous years.
Steven also attached a brief history of the tourist economy for the province, as provided to her by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.
"In general terms, 2007 was still a robust year for tourism in British Columbia," the report notes, adding that domestic travel and increased overseas entries more than compensated for a decline in US overnight entries that year.
"The end of 2008 marked the beginning of the global economic crisis which persists to this day," the report continued, which resulted in "a decline in discretionary spending, including overnight travel." Hotel occupancy declined and growth in tourism stalled.
"Room revenues took a huge hit in 2009, showing an 11.7 per cent decline," the report said. "The impact of the worldwide economic recession was exacerbated by fears related to the H1N1 pandemic that further reduced overnight travel. This environment in 2009 likely impacted the entire tourism sector in the Province and for the second straight year placing significant downward pressure on results in the resort communities."
"In 2010, the context for the tourism industry in British Columbia finally began to stabilize as overnight travel to Canada from the US increased by 0.7% and overseas by 6.8% compared to 2009," the report said. "The months of February and March stand out likely due to the Olympics with the most growth compared to 2009 at roughly 10% for each month. This growth, however, may have only positively impacted communities close to Vancouver and Whistler for the 2010 reporting year."
"Canada's high dollar also played a significant role in reducing Canada's price competitiveness compared to other destinations and likely tempered the growth somewhat," the report concluded.
Steven commented, "2011 was a fairly good year, with good snow and plenty of tourist traffic. Special events which assisted in the strong year included the Haywood Noram Nordic ski race, the Senior Games (hosted by Trail) and downhill ski races hosted by Red Mountain Resort."
There were 219 Rossland businesses involved in tourism in 2011. The only time this number was higher was in 2008, with 221 businesses. Steven noted, "These numbers only include business licenses for the City of Rossland and does not include inter-municipal business licenses."
While Steven said the number of business licenses has "remained fairly stable over the years," there has been consistent growth in commercial assessments in Rossland, from $25,856,700 in 2007 to $28,068,050 in 2011.
This is good news, Steven said: "One of the desired outcomes of the Additional Hotel Tax program and tourism is to diversify the municipal tax base towards a better mix of residential and commercial taxes."
Many of the report's indicators focus on the community of Rossland itself, such as availability of affordable housing, concentration of visitors—76% of properties are owned locally—resident transience—77% of residents have lived here for 5 years or more—crime rates, the degree of residents' support for tourism, how much visitors promote Rossland by word of mouth and whether they get value for their money.
One interesting number was the "sense of belonging" measured by Stats Canada with the ex-long-form census. Rossland's "sense" was at 80 to 86 per cent from 2007 to 2009, but fell to 66% in 2010, and was no longer measured in 2011.
Several statistics were drawn from the visitor centre that operates during the summer at the museum, including the "average length of stay" which has hovered around 3 days since 2007, with a slight peak to 4 days in 2008.
Steven urged caution with these statistics since the summer is the season "when Rossland is quietest," and furthermore the "visitor centre has been strongly affected by the closure of the Le Roi Mine tour which is co-located with the visitor centre."
She pointed out that 55 per cent of Rossland's accommodation business occurs from December to March, and only 24 per cent from June to September. A graph of the seven-year average of accommodation business in Rossland is attached below.
The complete RMI report is also attached below.