B.C.’s tourism industry will be a leader in job growth

Tourism-related businesses will look to fill 101,000 new job openings in B.C. by 2020, according to a study of labour demand and supply.

For some, a dream job would be a vacation planner  —  for themselves! Vacationing in B.C. can take so many forms that it would indeed be a full-time job.

The tourism and hospitality industry is an extremely diverse industry with more than 400 different occupations — including occupations that lead to longer-term careers, as well as those that fit well for those seeking part-time work, like students or older workers who are not yet ready to retire.

British Columbia’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 (for example, retirements).

“The labour strategy co-ordinated by go2 is a key pillar of industry growth in the province,” says Lana Denoni, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia (TIABC). “Without it, we simply wouldn’t have the skilled workers in place to deliver the visitor experience throughout B.C.”

British Columbia’s location, bordered by the Rocky Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west, makes it unique within Canada. Its mountain and coastal scenery, opportunities for summer sailing, winter skiing and other activities such as fishing or sightseeing in coastal or inland waters or experiencing our vibrant cities all make us a world-class destination.

Tourism helps to diversify our economy and also brings new community services to permanent residents.

B.C.’s tourism and hospitality industry is now the single largest “primary resource industry” in the province, generating an annual real GDP ($2002) 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.

“After several years of slow labour growth, the tourism industry is poised to expand,” said Arlene Keis, chief executive officer of go2. “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.”

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.

“The tourism industry often provides people with their important first job and sets them on their career path,” said Keis. “Tourism is also the largest employer of youth, with one in four British Columbians under the age of 24 working in the industry.”

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).

“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.

Local tourism operators are cautiously optimistic when it comes to the question of future prospects.

Peter Luckham, owner of 49th Parallel Dive Charters, predicts it will take three years or more for business to improve to 2008 levels. Luckham created and maintains an artificial reef off the coast of Chemainus that consists of a sunken Boeing 737 — a unique wreck featured on every cold-water diver’s bucket list. Divers travel to Chemainus from all over the globe to navigate the watery confines of the submerged aircraft, Luckham says, but in far smaller numbers now than before the financial crisis peaked in late 2008.

American divers provided between 70 and 80 per cent of his business prior to the crash, Luckham adds. Now, only a quarter of his clientele hails from the States.

Divers from Alberta and elsewhere have partly filled the void, but demand remains low enough that Simone Luckham, Peter’s wife and lone former employee, no longer crews their dive boat.

Simone now teaches art at a school in Duncan, Peter says, while he’s returned to working part-time as a sign maker. Luckham suspects the North American economy may have established a “new normal,” but adds that things may turn around if U.S. consumer confidence or exchange rates improve.

Kevin Beerman, acting manager at WildPlay Nanaimo, says WildPlay has reduced its number of employees too.

WildPlay’s Nanaimo location, an outdoor adventure park featuring zip lines and a bungy jump over the Nanaimo River, remained open for group bookings through December and January of last season. Due to a low turnout, however, Beerman says the park will remain closed through the coming winter.

As a result, WildPlay has reduced full-time, year-round staff from four employees to two and part-time seasonal staff from 35 in 2011 to 30 in 2012. Beerman adds that while staffing numbers decreased this year, employees benefited from an increased number of working hours.

WildPlay opened two new parks in 2012 — one in Kelowna, the other in the Yukon — and Beerman hopes the changes made will help improve things.

Beerman says he’s planning on increasing the size of their staff when they open for the 2013 season in February with their Naked Bungy event.

Sheryll Bell of Sealegs Kayaking Adventures says they lost a significant portion of their business following the crash in 2008 but weren’t required to cut staff as a result.

Since then, Bell adds, Americans have slowly begun to return as clients, increasing at an estimated rate of 10 per cent a year.