Combining tourism efforts a focus at Pac Northwest event
What is the future of tourism in the Pacific Northwest? That question was the conversation driver during a series of presentations and discussions July 17 at the annual Pacific Northwest Economic Region Summit held in Anchorage.
Canadian Tourism Commission President and CEO Michelle McKenzie said her agency is just beginning to collaborate with Brand USA, their sister group in the U.S., on generating “two-nation” intermodal travel itineraries in the region.
The Pacific Northwest Economic Region, or PNWER, is comprised of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska along with the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Yukon and Northwest territories.
McKenzie said Canadian and U.S. cooperation in the tourism industry is essential if the region wants to compete globally.
“This is not something where we’re competing against other parts of North America, we’re really looking at where the world’s travelers are going,” she said. “Travel is growing exponentially in the world, but it’s growing to the new and emerging destinations, so every established destination is working to compete for a growing market share of an exponentially growing business.”
Roughly two million overseas visitors per year travel to the region, McKenzie said, and their visits generate about $3 billion in revenue for local businesses. On average, about 800,000 of those travelers focus their trips on U.S. destinations, while 400,000, or 20 percent of all overseas travelers currently do a two-nation vacation, according to agency data.
Several conference speakers cited PNWER as being the world’s 10th largest economy.
McKenzie said the two-nation traveler demographic does not include those who use an air or seaport in one nation to get to the other. About 25 percent of Canadian-bound travelers use U.S. airports as entry points to the continent. She said those are the travelers that should be focused on when trying to expand the two-nation travel idea.
International travelers to Western Canada take long trips and are eager to spend money, McKenzie said. She referenced a typical Australian traveler to the region, who spends 32 days on vacation and takes multiple day train or cruise tours, often both.
The cruise industry is one area of tourism that takes advantage of both countries. McKenzie said 191 cruise ship sailings between Vancouver and Alaska ports in 2012 carried 663,000 visitors.
It appears as though the number Alaska cruisers, many of whom embark from or visit Canadian ports on their journey, should eclipse the one million mark this summer, said Cruise Lines International Association Alaska President John Binkley.
Returning to the benchmark number was set as an unwritten industry goal after Alaska cruise ridership fell from million-plus highs in 2007 and 2008 following the worldwide recession.
Nearly 60 percent of all visitors to Alaska come via cruise ship yearly, according to the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Cruise Lines International, or CLIA Alaska, was formerly the Alaska Cruise Association.
Binkley cited the looming final implementation of Emission Control Area, or ECA, regulations as a major threat to the region’s cruise market.
An agreement reached by Canadian officials and the Environmental Protection Agency through the International Maritime Organization, ECA will require ships traveling within 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores to burn fuel with less than 0.1 percent sulfur content beginning in 2015.
He said the regulation is a “de-facto fuel tax” that puts the U.S. and Canadian cruise industries at a competitive disadvantage worldwide.
Beginning in August 2012, ships in the area were required to burn 1 percent sulfur fuel. Binkley said that mandate instantly drove industry fuel prices up from $680 per metric ton of diesel to $950 per metric ton. Ultra-low sulfur fuel is currently selling at about $1,130 per metric ton, he said, and would amount to an increased operating cost of $152 per passenger, or about $6.8 million per ship per year.
“The cruise lines agree with the foundation of the ECA, trying to reduce the exhaust emissions, trying to improve the health of the people in North America, but they feel there’s a better way to do it,” Binkley said.
While the regulations restrict fuel choices, he said they should limit a ship’s end emissions output and let the industry determine how to meet new standards.
According to the Alaska Commerce Department, about 17 percent of surveyed visitors to the state have a “Native cultural experience” during their visit.
Anchorage-based Alaska Native Heritage Center President and CEO Annette Evans Smith said the prominence of Native culture in Alaska and Canada should be increasingly showcased to attract visitors.
Tourists enjoy seeing the center’s high school-aged Native interns working on traditional projects. She said it is a way to get travelers to feel a part of the region’s history.
“Some of our biggest donations to the Heritage Center every year actually come from our summer visitor pool because they love it so much,” Evans Smith said.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.