Tourism Vancouver Island has won a five-year contract to promote Nanaimo.
The value of the new contract with the city is $650,000 annually, with annual cost-of-living increases after the first year, said Anthony Everett, president and chief executive of Tourism Vancouver Island. It runs from April 1 to the end of March 2024.
Frank Bourree, a partner in Chemistry Consulting which analyzes Nanaimo’s tourism performance, praised the five-year deal, but said Tourism Vancouver Island should be getting a higher amount to do its job.
“I really think they should have a bigger budget than that because Nanaimo has some real potential, but nobody is willing to write the cheques.”
He suggested $1 million from the city and the local hotel tax.
The city’s tourism potential is “tremendous,” he said.
The 100-room Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel in Nanaimo closed at the end of October. At the time, Bourree said the building needed either major upgrading or a total rebuild.
If one or more hotels were built and a hoped-for foot passenger ferry between Nanaimo and Vancouver was started, tourism would “light up,” Bourree said. “They have some interesting developing First Nations exhibits up there and eco-tourism and whale-watching.”
There is wide community support for a ferry, but the private company backing it is still trying to raised required financing.
Bourree said Nanaimo hotels are achieving 76 per cent occupancy year-to-date at an average daily room rate of$132.90. “It’s pretty good for the guys who are there, but it’s suppressed. There is not enough room inventory.”
Other signs of the sector’s health include an increase of passengers through the Nanaimo Airport, up 21 per cent for the first 11 months of 2018 to 396,896.
Vancouver Island Conference Centre delegate days were up by 34.94 per cent to 396,896 for January through November of last year, Bourree’s report said. B.C. Ferries ridership held fairly steady for the bulk of last year.
The new tourism marketing agreement follows a pair of one-year contracts between the city and Tourism Vancouver Island, which runs the service under the name Tourism Nanaimo. Work includes tourism marketing and running the visitor centre on Northfield Road in Nanaimo.
Tourism Vancouver Island took on the job of tourism promotion after the city, under the previous council, decided to take tourism promotion out of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corp. in 2016. The organization’s chief executive was fired for criticizing the decision and mass board resignations followed.
Everett has “led them through some real challenges up there,” Bourree said, referring to the disruption in the city.
“They absolutely need a five-year term to get started because there’s a planning horizon,” he said. The organization’s work includes booking tour groups.
“It’s definitely important that they have stability over a longer period of time.”
Bourree is hoping the city is committed “to keep the industry marketed properly.”
He’s hopeful new hotels will go up. “Now that there is political stability, perhaps developers will take more of a shot at it.”
Nanaimo city hall was known for battles among council members. A new council was elected this past fall, largely made up of newcomers who campaigned for a more moderate and respectful atmosphere.
Tourism marketing does not belong inside city hall because the work requires industry involvement, Bourree said. Last year, Tourism Nanaimo was able to bring its total budget to $1.3 million from industry and other tourism bodies, Everett said.
In Victoria, the capital region continues to experience strong tourism results. The average hotel occupancy rate for November was up by 9.3 per cent to 69 per cent. For the first 11 months of 2018, occupancy in Victoria stood at 77.56 per cent, an increase of 2.65 per cent over the same months in 2017.
The average daily room rate increased year-over-year by $15.35 to $186.65 for the period of January through November.
B.C. Ferries carried 2.5 per cent more vehicles, for a total of 1.87 million, and passenger numbers at Victoria International Airport rose by six per cent to 1.8 million for those months. By year end, Victoria airport passenger numbers topped two million.
The Victoria Conference Centre’s delegate days climbed by 14 per cent to 120,330 for the first 11 months of 2018 compared to the same months in 2017.