Tourism, local chamber of commerce are on the rebound

Tourism is an important industry on the Saanich Peninsula, says Naomi Yamamoto.

Tourism is an important industry on the Saanich Peninsula, says Naomi Yamamoto.

Yamamoto, the BC Liberals’ Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business, addressed members of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce during their annual general meeting March 24 at the Brentwood Bay Resort. Much of her speech addressed the government’s recently-announced 20-cent hike in the minimum wage.

Yet, she did talk about the benefits of the tourism industry on the region.

“I know that Butchart Gardens is a huge draw,” she said. “It’s known around the world and acts as an ambassador for the Island and the tourism industry here.”

Yamamoto said tourism has exceeded most other industry in B.C. — mining, forestry — in overall economic benefit.

“2014 was a banner year and 2015 looks good too.”

Tourism, she continued, needs good marketing efforts but noted that it’s the destinations, like Butchart Gardens or Tourism Victoria, that do most of the branding of this province.

“Victoria’s brand  is well-known, but B.C.’s as a whole does not resonate in the world. Yamamoto added the province has lost ground in this area of promotion, saying there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to market B.C. to the world.

Yet, the industry continues to grow, she said, noting that tourism in 2014 represented a $14 billion infusion into the provincial economy.

On the small business front, Yamamoto said the majority of businesses in B.C. are classed as small — with 80 per cent of those with five or fewer employees.

“B.C. leads the country in the number of small businesses per 1,000 people,” she said. “We’re very overrepresented here and the challenge is keeping them around for more than five years.”

Yamamoto encouraged Chamber members to act as mentors, to share their experience as long-term business owners with newcomers getting started.