Sunny August helps break Victoria tourism record

A resurgent U.S. travel market and sun-soaked days turned August into a record-breaker for Victoria hotels.

For the first time in 15 years, hotel occupancy in the city cracked the 90 per cent mark as average occupancy across the region was 92.43 per cent in August — up from 87.6 per cent in the same month last year.

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Average occupancy for the first eight months of year is also up, sitting at 68.9 per cent versus 67.25 for the same period last year.

“August is always a good month for Victoria’s tourism industry, but August 2014 exceeded expectations,” said Frank Bourree, hospitality industry consultant and principal of Chemistry Consulting. “The U.S. market is back.”

The improved U.S. economy is playing the biggest role in bringing back the American visitor, Bourree said, but he also credits a favourable dollar exchange rate, more Americans with passports and increased tensions in the Middle East.

“When there’s trouble overseas, people tend to stay closer to home.”

There was also the 308 hours of sunshine, above the norm of 297.5 hours, and just 18 mm of rain, well below the norm of 23.8 mm.

It all translated into a significant increase in revenue per available room, with hoteliers getting $158.52 a night on average in August, up from $139.44 in the same month last year. Eight-month average revenue per room is $95.62, up from $87.95 last year.

Reid James, general manager of the Hotel Grand Pacific, said his hotel recorded occupancy levels in the high 90s in August.

“There were no deals to be had at any level — hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts; from what I’ve heard everyone had a great August,” he said. “Our U.S. travel was up and that seemed to be across the board, all the markets were strong.”

James said this summer has built on a strong 2013, and the pendulum seems to have swung in favour of the Pacific Northwest and B.C.

B.C. Ferries also had a strong August, with a 2.2 per cent increase in vehicle traffic and 2.7 per cent increase in passenger numbers, versus last year. Victoria International Airport saw a 7.7 per cent increase in passengers. Black Ball Transport, which operates the Coho ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles, recorded a two per cent increase in August compared to the same month last year.

“The numbers weren’t great, but they were up, and we were up last year at this time as well, so we are continuing to grow,” said chief executive Ryan Burles.

Bourree said Victoria’s tourism industry is on a roll with U.S. visitors despite the Canadian Tourism Commission no longer marketing in that country.

“It’s been up to Tourism Victoria and Destination B.C. to fill the gap and they haven’t had much to work with,” he said.

Tourism Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey said his organization intends to build on the strong summer with a fall campaign.

The tourism group has a Halloween campaign in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Calgary and San Francisco selling Victoria as “B.C.’s Haunted Capital.”

The campaign features videos of Greater Victoria ghosts, designed to send traffic online to get the full story. Tourism Victoria is promoting the hashtag #VictoriaBOO on Twitter.

aduffy@timescolonist.comm

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