Tourist industry taking charge of its own future

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Industry-led process will help determine future level of success for tourism growth

Prince Edward Island: The Gentle Island

Amid the figures and data released last week about P.E.I. tourism numbers following the end of the key seasonal period for 2013, there was an interesting, affiliated story which received scant attention. The general consensus is that key tourism indicators were on a par with last year. All things considered, holding our own might be considered a good result.

The tourism industry is a major economic generator for the province and the more than one million visitors to P.E.I. each year play a vital role in creating tax revenues and employing Islanders. Tourism on the Island provides more than 7,000 full-time equivalent jobs and the industry accounts for about $380 million in economic activity each year and seven per cent of our GDP, the highest percentage of any Canadian province.

The other story which hovered just below the news radar screen was a statement from the tourism association asking its members to take a greater role in industry growth and management. The industry might be guilty in the past of sitting back and allowing government too much influence in deciding themes, strategies and promotional campaigns. There is a perception that operators are content with the province doing the work and spending the money while operators sit back to benefit or suffer from government campaigns.

So the announcement from the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island that it is looking to act on recommendations from a province-wide forum last March, organized and hosted by TIAPEI, is an encouraging development. The private sector is better at developing programs for its own benefit, rather than depending on government. There is no question the province and tourism industry have worked closely over the years to their mutual benefit and that it has been a generally productive partnership. But things are changing and the industry must keep up with innovative marketing, promotions and provide excellence in service and be competitive in price to hold our position as a prime destination.

 From that spring brainstorming came an in-depth look at the current state of the industry and the creation of a three-year strategic plan to drive growth in a very competitive world market. Tourism groups met over the summer months to develop a plan for a new industry-led tourism model, a process that could see broad change and revitalization for the tourism industry, all initiated from the private sector.

TIAPEI sees its success coming from industry-led priorities and initiatives. In order to achieve the goals set over the next three years, the industry needs its stakeholders to be actively engaged and participating at each stage of the process. That next step has begun this week in a series of meetings across the Island to receive updates on those summer meetings and plan next steps. Results will be presented during the TIAPEI annual meeting the end of this month. TIAPEI deserves recognition and support for taking on more responsibility for its future success.

But there is one development on the international scene over which TIAPEI has no control. Canada was once the seventh most visited country in the world but a new report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce shows this country has dropped to 18th in the past 10 years. Four million fewer people came to Canada in 2012 than in 2002 when 20 million foreign visitors came. Ten years later, that number had dropped to 15.9 million. Some of those international tourists obviously come to P.E.I. Despite this, the federal government cut the Canadian Tourism Commission’s budget by $63 million this year. That trend must be questioned.

Organizations: Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Tourism Commission

Geographic location: P.E.I., Iceland, Canada

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