Greater Victoria is seeing a late-summer tourism surge, with the crowds of visitors on Government Street Friday an indication of how robust August has been.
The first half of the year, dogged by chilly and wet weather, had been slow, dragged down by a plunge in U.S. visitors.
But August made up for much of the slump, tourism industry officials say, and they are anticipating a strong September as warm weather and blue skies continue to lure visitors.
Darrell Bryan, president of Clipper Vacations, predicts a six per cent increase in passenger numbers this year over last.
Clipper Vacations carries about 270,000 passengers per one-way trip annually between Victoria and the U.S.
August numbers were "very good," Bryan said from Seattle.
Data for August is not yet available but an industry analyst said hotels and attractions were busy during the past month.
The Clipper's three sailings out of Seattle were fully booked on Friday, delivering more than 900 visitors to Victoria. Today's three sailings are also full, Bryan said. "We are adding a lot of extra sailings.
"Summer is the breadand-butter," he said. "A lot of families are travelling. They find it [Victoria] pedestrian-friendly. They can walk around and they can feel safe."
But Bryan thinks Victoria has "sat back on its laurels" for too long. Money needs to be spent on infrastructure, such as the Belleville Street Terminal, and in updating some attractions because other destinations are aggressively vying for the same tourists. "Investment isn't being made as it once was," Bryan said.
"July wasn't great but August is looking really good, so year-to-date we are still in fairly decent shape - I think we are going to have a very strong September as well," said Frank Bourree, tourism consultant and principal at Chemistry Consulting.
The average hotel occupancy rate dropped in July to 78.27 per cent from 80.54 per cent in July 2011. Some hotels cut rates in July but with business picking up, that has diminished, he said.
He is concerned that U.S. visitors to the capital region going through Canada Customs dropped 53 per cent from January to June, versus the same period last year - 114,585 compared with 244,053.
Other international traveller numbers also slid by 50.3 per cent to 15,037 in the first six months this year from last year's 30,243 in the same period, Bourree said.
Visitor numbers to B.C. have not dropped, he said. "Which tells me that they are coming to B.C. but they are not getting over to the Island, [because of] either the cost of the ferry or some big draw on the Lower Mainland, I don't know."
At Butchart Gardens, visitor numbers climbed in August. There's also been a steady increase in visitors from Asia, said Dale Ryan, director of public relations, marketing and sales.
"Obviously weather is a bit of a factor for us, being an outdoor facility. So the weather was much improved in August," she said.
"I would say overall for the year, we will probably be up over last year" in admissions.
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