Victoria may be short on hotel rooms when demand returns

Victoria’s tourism industry may be braced for recovery, but it may not be ready to ­welcome back all segments of the ­travelling public.

With conversions of many hotels to seniors residences or condominiums over the last decade, and hotel sales to provide shelter for homeless people, the region has far fewer hotel rooms to accommodate any kind of rush.

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Hospitality consultant Frank Bourree said the region is also missing a number of non-hotel options as many short-term vacation rental properties were pulled from the market and converted to long-term rentals or sold, when revenue dried up during the pandemic.

“Victoria is going to ­struggle,” said Bourree, when asked if the region is ready to respond to pent-up demand. “When we last counted, we’d lost 22 hotels over the last 10-12 years.”

In some cases, like the ­Harbour Towers and Queen ­Victoria hotels, they were ­converted to condominiums and apartments, while the Crystal Court Motel was razed and rebuilt as a seniors residence.

Over the last year, three ­Victoria hotels, Paul’s Motor Inn, Capital City Centre Hotel, and Comfort Inn and Suites, were purchased by the provincial government to house homeless people.

Bourree estimates that translates into as many as 1,800 hotels rooms now gone, most of them from the mid-to-low end of the market.

He said that could work in Victoria’s favour as it means the hotel mix the city has now caters to a higher-yield traveller, the kind that he believes will be the first to travel when travel restrictions are scrapped.

“It’s a perfect segment for us,” he said, noting we can no longer cater to the lower end of the market, such as travelling high school teams. “We just don’t have the rooms.”

Paul Nursey, chief executive of Destination Greater Victoria, is not as pessimistic.

“I wouldn’t say we’re in trouble,” he said, pointing out there are three hotel development applications — Broad Street, Wharf Street and Blanshard Street — in front of the City of Victoria and another being considered for Government Street.

Nursey said he has heard of others being considered and there could be time to have them all established before a full recovery for the hospitality industry.

“Hopefully the various municipal governments will have the wisdom to approve some of these projects, because ­investors and developers are looking at the hotel segment again, which is exciting,” he said.

Nursey said the city is in demand and needs a mix of hotels that cater to all tastes and economic realities.

He said the city will never be a Kamloops, which prides itself on catering to amateur sports teams and tournaments that tend to use mid-market accommodation, but instead has to provide for a broad mix.

“We are an integrated mix of business, convention, leisure and sports travel,” he said, noting Victoria’s sports tourism tends to focus on international and national events.

Keith Wells, executive ­director of the Greater Victoria Sports Tourism Commission, said the city has a good mix already. “We are well equipped,” he said, pointing out the Pacific Cup oldtimers hockey tournament manages to spread hundreds of players around the region every year. His group is preparing to host 4,000 people for the B.C. Seniors Games this fall. “We are doing pretty well considering the relatively small city we are.”

Wells said with plans for more hotels, sports tourism can plan with confidence, which includes preparing a bid for the Invictus Games. That event would tax all hotels in the region and would bring athletes, dignitaries and families from around the world.

“There’s also such a lag with sports [tourism],” he said. ­“Everything I work on now is for 2022, 2023 and 2024. The effects of our work won’t be seen for a few years.”

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