The local economy is getting a substantial boost from tourism so far this year, with a significant jump seen in the number visitors staying over or stopping to shop in the community.
South Cariboo Visitor Centre (SCVC) manager Julie Gilmore keeps close tabs on the numbers, and the plans of everyone who stops in.
She says the quarterly figures show remarkable increases – with some more than double those seen in the same period in 2014.
The first quarter records logged 5,016 total visitors – about a 235 per cent jump over last year’s 2,134.
The second quarter also showed very strong results, at 10,860 visitor stops compared to 6,885 in 2014, almost a 158 per cent increase.
This is “absolutely” related to the strength of the U.S. dollar, with U.S. visitors holidaying where their cash is going further in 2015.
“Highway 97 is the corridor for the Alaska Highway run; but in past years when their dollar has been a lot lower, they were just passing through. But what we are seeing to date is that they are out and about – we have our U.S. tourists stopping and staying in different areas and spending.”
Gilmore says whether it is just for a couple hours or a few nights, these tourists from south of the border are staying in 100 Mile House, or else stopping there to shop and staying in Williams Lake.
“They are staying and spending their dollars in 100 Mile House and buying souvenirs, which is a huge change for them because usually they don’t spend here.”
April went from 2,134 visitors in 2014 to 5,016 this year, about 195 per cent hike in those assisted at the centre.
“You can significantly see how it’s been changing from our numbers from 2014, so for tourism is basically back on the rise – and that’s all over, not just on the Cariboo. It’s remarkable.”
Many travellers from Alberta have told SCVC staff they have holidayed in the Okanagan or Vancouver in the past and decided to travel to the Cariboo this year, where they had never been, she adds.
“They are just floored at our beauty.”
A lot of travellers are stopping in to look for something to do, so community events make a “huge impact” on convincing them to stay longer, she explains.
Gilmore adds last week’s 50th Anniversary Celebration events in 100 Mile House (July 18-26) are a good example.
“Just for the Cowboy Concert alone, five people stayed in the community that were just passing through.”
The work SCVC does with Destination BC and other tourism promoters is partly responsible for January’s results, with 1,538 stops compared to 696 in 2014, she says.
“We’ve been doing a lot of marketing on our four seasons, and we see it paying off.”
While the snow was too low for many winter sports, the good driving conditions seem to have more than made up for that in overall visits, she explains.
Gilmore says a lot of folks who typically pass through on the Northern Health bus were travelling on their own to appointments over the winter, allowing them to stop longer in 100 Mile House.
While there are typically “huge” numbers of European visitors, a new demographic has now appeared, she adds.
“This year we are seeing a lot of Australians and New Zealanders.”
Gilmore notes all theses statistics bode very well to an encouraging upward trend this summer, as well as for the longterm tourism outlook.
“It’s looking very positive. And, July and August, and even September, are usually our busiest times.”