There are many economic engines in the North Okanagan, but one of the most active is tourism.
Thousands of people have developed careers by ensuring the needs of visitors to the region are met.
“It’s right up there in importance if it includes retail and restaurants,” said Michelle Jefferson, Vernon’s tourism services manager.
Accommodation revenue in Vernon has climbed 20 per cent so far in 2012 and that has provided hotels and motels with the opportunity to create employment.
The tourism and hospitality industry covers about 400 different occupations and locally, that can range from being a chef to hosting nature tours or running a bed and breakfast.
“We want to do what we’re passionate about and that translates into activities in the tourism sector,” said Jefferson.
B.C.’s tourism industry will be a leader in provincial job growth as businesses look to fill 101,000 new job openings by 2020, according to a study of labour demand and supply by go2, the B.C. tourism industry’s human resource association.
The Tourism Labour Market Strategy, released in the spring of 2012 by go2, sets out the plan to recruit, retain and train the workers needed to keep pace with the growth projected for the industry.
Nearly half of the 101,000 openings will be new jobs created by the tourism industry across the province, adding 44,220 more jobs to the provincial workforce by 2020. The other approximately 57,000 openings are due to replacements (i.e. retirements).
“The labour strategy co-ordinated by go2 is a key pillar of industry growth in the province. Without it, we simply wouldn’t have the skilled workers in place to deliver the visitor experience throughout BC,” says Lana Denoni, chairperson of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C.
B.C.’s tourism and hospitality industry is now the single largest primary resource industry in the province, generating an annual real GDP of more than $6.4 billion in 2010, ahead of forestry, mining, oil and gas extraction, and agriculture.
Tourism and hospitality generated $13.4 billion in annual revenue in 2010. Overall, between 2004 and 2010, industry revenues grew by a total of 25.5 per cent, representing an average annual growth rate of 4.2 per cent.
The provincial government’s Gaining the Edge: A Five-year Strategy for Tourism in British Columbia targets revenue growth of five per cent a year that will top $18 billion in tourism spending by 2016.
The fastest growing sectors for tourism job growth over the next decade are expected to be recreation and entertainment and travel services.
There are an estimated 17,943 tourism-related businesses across the province, employing about 260,000 workers, or 10.8 per cent of B.C.’s total labour force of 2.4 million people.
More than 80 per cent of tourism’s new job openings are projected to come in food and beverage services (43,410 openings), recreation and entertainment (20,530 openings) and the accommodation sector (18,920 openings).
“There are always opportunities for growth,” said Jefferson.
“I love people who create food products and sell them at the local farmers markets to locals and visitors and then, all of a sudden, they have a product line. It’s an authentic souvenir. It’s a taste of the Okanagan.”
After several years of slow labour growth, the tourism industry is poised to expand across the province.
“Labour shortages are already being felt in places like northern B.C., the Thompson-Okanagan and in the Rockies regions. By 2016, the crunch will be more acute throughout the province,” said Arlene Keis, chief executive officer of go2.
“The tourism industry often provides people with their important first job and sets them on their career path. Tourism is also the largest employer of youth, with one in four British Columbians under the age of 24 working in the industry.”
“This anticipated growth in tourism reinforces the need to plan carefully and ensure that there are enough workers with the right skills in the right communities to meet the tourism industry’s future labour needs,” said Keis.