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Asian tourism boom on horizon

More flights to Vancouver as Clark angles for non-stop service between Prince George and China

Asia is the region where B.C. tourism industry insiders expect the most growth.

That anticipation is stoked by:

?a new air transport agreement between Canada and Japan;

?increasing commercial agreements between airlines and the Vancouver International Airport Authority;

?cross-cultural partnerships; and

?an enhanced ability for tour operators to market directly to Chinese consumers.

New federal and provincial tourism strategies also target Asia as a region for an increased focus.

Premier Christy Clark?s recent trade mission to China followed China formally granting Canada approved destination status (ADS) in June 2010. That designation enables both B.C. and Chinese tour operators to market trips by Chinese citizens to B.C.

Tourism industry insiders expect ADS to increase the number of Chinese visitors to B.C. by 20% in 2011 and an additional 15% in 2012 because it also makes it easier for Chinese citizens to visit B.C.

Last year, there were 118,481 international visitor arrivals from China, up 18.9% from 2009, according to Tourism BC.

Clark oversaw business agreements on her trip that will spur what she called ?substantial change,? when speaking with Business in Vancouver on the phone from Beijing on November 9.

One of her trip?s bigger accomplishments was when executives at both Sichuan Airlines and the Vancouver Airport Authority signed a letter of intent for the Guangdong-based airline to make its first flights to North America.

That airline now waits for Transport Canada approval to realize its goal of operating three flights per week between Guangdong and Vancouver in 2012.

Clark also met with Si Xianmin, president of Asia?s largest airline, China Southern Airlines (CSA).

?Our meeting was about how they can increase their flights from three times per week to Vancouver, to seven times per week,? Clark told BIV. ?And, also, whether they can start transiting through Prince George for their North American flights for refuelling, which would be a big economic boost for Prince George.?

Earlier this year, CSA started flying passengers and cargo from Guangzhou and Vancouver.

Transport Canada?s approval of Sichuan Airlines? plan to fly to the Vancouver International Airport would boost B.C.?s gross domestic product by an estimated $50 million, Clark said.

She added that Sichuan Airlines? plan to fly to Vancouver includes a guarantee from a large Chinese travel agency that the agency can sell every seat on every Sichuan Airlines flight to a Chinese tourist.

The underlying confidence displays both faith that there is strong demand among the growing Chinese middle class to come to Vancouver, as well as that those potential tourists will be able to get the necessary visas to enter Canada.

Critics have taken jabs at the cumbersome process Citizenship and Immigration Canada has for Chinese citizens to obtain visas to enter Canada.

Tourism BC has, for years, used resources to educate tour operators in China about the kinds of adventures visitors can enjoy in B.C. Those efforts can now morph into actively marketing to the Chinese consumer.

The provincial tourism body?s director of North American marketing, Carol Nelson, told BIV that Canada?s ADS with China has enabled her marketing organization to partner with 13 tour operators so far this year.

?We?ve been very successful at securing significant media visits including some from World Traveller Magazine,? Nelson said.

That publication, operated by the influential Asian travel media company World Traveller Media Group, published a 100-page article on Vancouver?s attractions in the publication?s March edition.

Tourism to B.C. from Asian tourists is expected to grow exponentially but the truth is that Americans continue to dominate the number of foreign visitors who visit B.C. each year.

Statistics Canada data shows that 75.3% of the 5.8 million non-resident visitors who entered Canada through B.C. in 2010 came from the U.S.

Only 10.9% of those visitors came from Asia. The Asian countries which have the largest share of that total are:

?Japan (2.2%);

?China (2.1%); and

?South Korea (1.9%).

Canada and Japan signed a bilateral air transport agreement on October 1, fueling speculation that more Japanese tourists will be on the way.

That pact means that Canadian airlines have added flexibility for airwline routings through Tokyo?s Narita International Airport. It also provides additional rights and services for airlines operating between Canada and Japan through third countries.

Caught under the radar on Clark?s trip was a letter of intent signed between Barkerville Historic Town and the Guangdong Museum of Overseas Chinese.

The pact would bring a travelling exhibit of photos depicting the lives of early Chinese migrants to B.C. during the gold rush in the late 1800s and early 1900s. ?