British Columbia

Public safety and public relations: B.C. tourism gets provincial funding during wildfire season

Tourist organizations in British Columbia are getting new provincial money to help keep visitors informed about emergencies like wildfires and floods.

Many tourists come in the summer at the height of wildfire season

Cities around B.C. reported lower tourism numbers due to wildfires last year. (Submitted by Tracy Calogheros)

Tourist organizations in British Columbia are getting new provincial money to help keep visitors informed about emergencies like wildfires and floods.

The new plan recently unveiled by the province includes $200,000 in one-time grants to support emergency preparedness marketing in different tourist destinations around the province.

"It's an opportunity for us to look after our tourists much better," said Jennifer Rice, the parliamentary secretary for emergency preparedness.

The grants were announced as part of B.C. Tourism Week, which highlights the industry's role in B.C.'s economy.

The money is intended to help tourism associations come up with a communication strategy, train staff and expand their tourism database to share real-time information.

The groups will also be invited to emergency operations meetings, which are usually closed to the public.

"We'll include the tourism associations into those discussions, so that they're armed with the most up-to-date and accurate information," Rice told CBC's Daybreak South.

"It also helps emergency managers understand who is where in the province."

Tourism in B.C. generates billions of dollars for the provincial economy each year. (Destination B.C.)

For organizations like the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, it's a big break.

"Over the last couple of years, we've had better communication with the province and better communication with emergency preparedness to understand what's happening," said Ellen Walker-Matthews, vice-president of destination and industry development with the association. 

"But now, they've actually seen us as an official agency … so. we believe we can get better information to our tourists, even to our residents, about exactly what's happening in the tourism areas."

Public safety is part of the push behind the new source of money — but public relations is also a factor.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in B.C., with more than  6.1 million visitors passing through last year. Many of them come in July and August, when wildfire season is in full swing.

"The tourism association has unnecessarily suffered greatly in the last two years with the perception that the entire province is up in flames and not open for visitors when that's absolutely not the case," Rice said.

By giving tourism more tools of communication, Rice said, visitors will be be able to plan their trips around the fires. 

"We don't want everyone to just pack up and go to a different province or to cancel their vacation altogether," she said. 

With files from Daybreak South

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