As the B.C. economy continues to benefit from a growing tourism sector, Fort St. James’ historic attractions make it an appealing destination for tourists in northern B.C. (Black Press files)

Highlighting Fort St. James tourism during B.C.’s Tourism Week

As the Government of British Columbia and industry representatives recognized Tourism Week in British Columbia with an official proclamation at the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, the Fort St. James Mayor and Council discussed the blossoming tourism industry in the community, as well as the challenges that they still face.

Per a news release issued by Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Tourism Week has come and gone in British Columbia, with May 27 to June 2 recognizing the provinces booming visitor economy.

“Tourism Week offers an exceptional opportunity to raise awareness about how essential tourism is to people all over British Columbia,” said Lisa Beare, the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture. “Tourism drives our economy, creates jobs and strengthens communities, making B.C. a better place for people to live, work and visit. Our government is committed to championing tourism as we work to grow a thriving, sustainable industry which attracts more visitors from Canada and around the world.”

Beare made the announcement alongside representatives from Destination BC, the Tourism Industry Association of BC, Indigenous Tourism BC, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, the Adventure Tourism Coalition and members of the legislative assembly, to officially celebrate B.C.’s thriving and prosperous tourism industry.

Concurrently, on May 30, the Fort St. James Mayor and Council met and discussed numerous reports and meetings that the Fort St. James Tourism Committee has had, as well as some of the problems that visitors still face when they visit the community.

The Fort St. James Tourism committee, which consists of an engaged group approximately eight citizens and stakeholders, as well as representatives from Parks Canada and the Province, currently meets on a quarterly basis, with their most recent meeting taking place on March 15, 2018.

Since historic attractions, municipal parks and outdoor recreational activities are some of the major factors when it comes to attracting tourists to the community, the Tourism Committee discussed some of the updates made to the historic parks, as well as the notion that Parks Canada staff will promote the scenic drive through Fort St. James to visitors in the future.

The committee’s next meeting, which will take place on June 15, will supposedly feature discussion around the Stuart Lake Boardwalk concept, as well as slope stabilization in the area.

However, during the council meeting, Economic Development Officer Kelley Williams stated that visitors are often wary of the community’s downtown core due to individuals who suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse occupying the area.

“That is a huge negative thing for our community,” said Williams. “Visitors do not feel safe going down our walkway at night, they do not feel safe shopping, as they are panhandled quite aggressively sometimes. That’s something that the Tourism Committee would really welcome, if Council could put the safety of our visitors into mind somehow.”

Williams and Council brought stated that although this issue has been mentioned time and time again, is the lack of foot patrolling and police presence along the walking paths in the township.

“Perhaps a letter to the RCMP to remind them of their obligation and their willingness, that they’ve expressed clearly, to start doing foot patrols is in order,” said Williams.

Council also discussed the upcoming update to the Visitor Information Centre, which acts as an extremely important resource for tourists who enter the community. The facility itself will undergo some minor upgrades which include swapping out some particularly energy inefficient lighting, repairing a rotting log and replacing the water line for the building.

Opportunities, changes and upgrades regarding tourism in Fort St. James were welcomed by council, as the importance of a healthy and sustainable tourism sector continues to grow in B.C.

Per the aforementioned news release, British Columbia’s tourism industry generated $17 billion in revenue in 2016 and did so while making a direct contribution of $7.0 billion to the province’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Currently, tourism remains one of B.C.’s largest and most reliable sectors, as it contributes as much to the province’s GDP as oil and gas, while contributing more than mining, forestry and agriculture.

“Tourism is a powerful force, creating industry growth that’s far outpacing the overall economy,” said Maya Lange the vice-president of global marketing for Destination BC. “Tourism also enhances the great lifestyle we enjoy as British Columbians, giving us amazing resorts, festivals, wineries, museums, campgrounds, restaurants and so much more. I encourage everyone to get out and explore B.C.”

Per the news release, tourism is also one of the province’s biggest employers, with 19,000 businesses and more than 133,000 people working and contributing in the sector. As the tourism market grows in smaller communities like Fort St. James, future projections show that B.C.’s tourism and hospitality sector will see more than 100,000 new jobs created by 2020.

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