Tourism Stagnates in Vancouver

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

ONE way to get a quick reading on how Vancouver's top industry - tourism - is faring is to check with Dennis (Fridge) Fridulin.Fridge conducts sightseeing tours of Canada's third-largest city in two restored Ford Model A Phaetons. With cellular telephone in hand, he operates from a curb-side "headquarters" in front of Canada Place. This tourist hot-spot contains the busy cruise-ship terminal, Vancouver Trade and Convention Center, and Pan Pacific Hotel. When business is good, his topless vintage vehicles constantly purr through cosmopolitan Vancouver's spotless streets on one-hour tours. But this year, business has been tough. In August, normally prime tourist season, business fell off, he says. Part of the problem was record rainfall in that month: 6.7 inches compared with 1.6 on average. But Canada's tourist trade - a $25 billion (Canadian; US$22 billion) industry - has also been pelted by a year-long recession and a new 7 percent tax on goods and services. Vancouver hasn't been hurt as much as the rest of the country, says Tom Walker, executive director of Tourism Vancouver. "Vancouver always does better than the rest of the country, much like California and Florida, with their moderate climates, in the US," Mr. Walker says. And the Canadian recession is over, according to Canadian Finance Minister Donald Mazankowski. Overall tourist volume in Vancouver, however, has remained somewhat level for five years, since the city hosted Expo '86. Most of Vancouver's tourists come from the United States, and the number continues to rise, Walker notes. Although overall Vancouver tourism this year was down 3 percent through June, the US portion was up 3 percent. The international market advanced 1 percent but the Canadian market was off 10 percent, says Paul Vallee, director of Vancouver Facts and Research, a division of Tourism Vancouver. Mr. Vallee sees total dollars spent by visitors this year as "about the same" as last year, at $1.8 billion. That total was up 1.5 percent from 1989. Of 9 million total visitors, 6 million overnight tourists accounted for 95 percent of total spending. Vallee figures about 100,000 of those overnighters are on their way to or from cruise ships. Most sail to Alaska. The number of cruise-ship passengers from Vancouver is expected to reach 415,000 this year, up from 388,323 last year. Cruise-ship passengers spend $22 million a year in Vancouver, says Jim Warren, president of the Pacific Rim Cruise Association, which promotes the industry. Nearly 1.5 million of Vancouver's overnight visitors - about one-fourth of the total - last year came from the US, according to Vallee. Canadian visitors accounted for 65 percent, while other nations yielded 11 percent, led by Japan with 3 percent. For all foreign visitors, the new goods and services tax is refundable on some purchases. Hampering the attraction of many US prospects is the lack of nonstop flights from points east of Chicago. Talks under way may remedy that. To lure more Japanese travelers, Hotel Vancouver is providing kimonos and slippers to those who stay on the entree gold level, the most expensive. "Bathrobes are too North American," says Deborah Upton, public relations director for CP Hotels in British Columbia. Occupancy rates at key downtown Vancouver hotels slipped to 65 percent in the first seven months of the year, from 73 percent for the same period in 1990, reports Price Waterhouse, a consulting firm. Meanwhile, room rates rose to $108 from $102. The occupancy rate for the full year is expected to be 71 or 72 percent, down from 76 percent last year, predicts a spokesman for Pannell Kerr Foster, a management consulting firm. He anticipates a rebound next year to at least the 1990 level. The first significant hotel construction since the Expo is the 23-story Waterfront Center, which rose from vacant industrial space. Formally opened on Sept. 20, the hotel already is attracting cruise passengers for overnight stays because of its proximity to Canada Place across the street. Next month the hotel will be linked to the cruise terminal by an underground walkway.

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