Greater Victoria tourism forecast bright after 'incredible' 2015

If you want to know how the tourism industry performed this year, just ask the manager at the Breakwater Cafe and Bistro on Ogden Point.

“It was a pretty incredible year,” Roy Minett said Wednesday.

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As the value of Canada’s loonie dropped against the U.S. greenback, tourism watchers figured the currency discrepancy would help lure visitors north.

It did — in spades.

“As soon as the season hit, we were just packed in here,” Minett said from the waterfront restaurant, which offers live music three nights a week.

Ogden Point was a go-to destination last summer as lights, music, outdoor performances and lots of feet on the ground created a lively atmosphere.

Many customers came off the cruise ships that pulled in at nearby piers, Minett said.

It was a record cruise-ship season with 227 ship visits carrying a total of 533,000 passengers. Next year, even more passengers are expected.

Among the larger ships expected, Ogden Point will see Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas — the largest cruise ship ever to travel to Alaska — stop here a dozen times in 2016.

Paul Nursey, president and CEO of Tourism Victoria, said all segments of the tourism industry performed well in 2015.

The capital region is expected to host an estimated 3.6 million to 3.7 million overnight visitors in 2016, he said.

Catering to tourists is a decades-long economic generator in B.C.’s capital city.

Tourism Victoria said the sector generates $1.9 billion in spending to the region annually and is responsible for about 22,000 jobs.

The tourism sector saw more high-end travellers from Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco arrive in 2015, as well as more delegate days at the Victoria Conference Centre. The number of overseas visitors, often arriving via tours, climbed as well, Nursey said.

Vibrant economies in Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco helped the Victoria tourism sector, said Nursey. “We had very effective marketing campaigns into those [cities].”

Tourism Victoria did not market in Alberta because it is going through a difficult economic time, Nursey said. The organization decided it was “going to put all our dollars into trying to get high-end visitors to come and those campaigns hit and they went very well.”

As part of that push, Tourism Victoria officials took part in a 31-person trade mission to San Francisco in September.

Tourism Victoria is prepping for 2016 with campaigns to drive business during off-peak times. This includes a romance theme in January and February, Dine Around and Stay in Town in late February and a spring campaign.

Hotels notched remarkable numbers in the capital region.

Revenue per available room — a key indicator in the hotel industry — showed a 40 per cent per cent increase to $108.64 for the first 11 months of this year compared to the same months in 2012, when it was at $77.84.

The average daily room rate was up by 24 per cent over that time frame, to $150.82.

Occupancy climbed to 72 per cent, up 13 points from 2012.

As well, month after month this year, passenger numbers at Victoria International Airport surpassed last year’s performance. Airport officials predict the year will end with 1.7 million passengers, beating the 1.568 million who took off and landed here in 2014.

Local spending is adding to the sector’s economic punch.

“Our economy is seeing new investment in product and renovation to make our accommodation sector more competitive,” Nursey said.

A $40-million renovation program is underway at the Fairmont Empress. A new manager for the hotel is expected to be announced in 2016 after former manager Don Fennerty left this month to run the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary.

Another $5 million is being spent at the Hotel Grand Pacific on Belleville Street.

Also this year, the former Executive House Hotel was flagged as a Double Tree by Hilton Hotel and Suites following a $20-million renovation.

The three ships carrying Victoria Clipper passengers between Victoria and Seattle are all being upgraded.

At the Belleville Street terminal, which serves Black Ball’s Coho ferry, the Clipper vessels and U.S. customs, the docks are being rebuilt in the first phase of an upgrading project. A second stage to improve vehicle access and beautify the street is expected to cost $3 million.

A final phase for a new terminal building could cost up to $40 million and is waiting for a funding agreement. Victoria officials went to Ottawa last month to discuss the funding with representatives of the new federal government.

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