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Around Town: Tourism team hits overdrive

With the sun playing tag with the clouds and the intoxicating fragrance of cherry blossoms on the harbour, the setting seemed tailor-made for last Tuesday’s Tourism Turbo Drive event.

With the sun playing tag with the clouds and the intoxicating fragrance of cherry blossoms on the harbour, the setting seemed tailor-made for last Tuesday’s Tourism Turbo Drive event.

Eighty local tourism industry stakeholders exchanged stories and opinions at Coast Victoria Harbourside Hotel before a Tourism Town Hall got under way. Hosted by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and the Canadian Tourism Commission, it was the first time such an event has been held here.

It also presented a golden opportunity for Tourism Victoria CEO Paul Nursey to reunite with Jon Mamela, the CTC’s chief marketing officer he worked with across the pond.

“Tourism in Victoria is such a great opportunity but we have to continue to work hard to capitalize on that,” said Nursey, who also worked for Tourism Vancouver and has been on the job here for 90 days. “We’re in recovery mode now and I’m optimistic about the future. We had untapped potential here, and we have to compete more aggressively to give travelers what they’re looking for.”

Greater Victoria’s $1.9 billion dollar industry isn’t built on the same foundation it was in decades past, noted one guest after another before filing into the Coast Ballroom.

“I think the days of the [Royal London] Wax Museum and Undersea Gardens where people go and observe are waning,” said Brian Henry, owner of Ocean River Sports. “I think people going somewhere to experience activities is on the upswing. They want to experience something genuine, and we’re on the edge of nature right here, at the end of an island surrounded by beautiful waterways.”

He said while American travellers are returning, with business up on Victoria Clipper and MV Coho sailings, it’s not just the exchange rate bonus that motivates them.

An example of an increasingly popular “soft adventure” is kayaking, Henry observed.

“The unassuming travelers are coming and doing kayaking which they never would have done before. It’s become more accepted.”

Mamela said CTC has been working with TIAC to ratchet up Canada’s global competitiveness and increase visits, particularly by U.S. travellers — issues addressed during the open forum.

“This is an opportunity to outreach to our partners, where we get to hear their opinions and perspectives on their tourism economy,” Mamela said. “”It helps us understand what that does for us on the national stage. What we do in turn is educate and inform and provide an opportunity to understand how they can better partner with us. We find that partnership spirit alive and well in Canada.”

Tourism Victoria board member and philanthropist Derek Sanderson was pumped, recalling how he successfully rebranded Victoria to reflect the entire capital region on Trip Advisor.

Sanderson and his wife Julie, owners of Island IT and co-chairs of the annual Victoria Masquerade Ball fundraisers, have become ambassadors for the city since moving here from Saskatoon six years ago. After encountering Trip Advisor CEO Stephen Kaufer at a social occasion, Sanderson worked with him for four months to better position local attractions.

“In the past The Butchart Gardens was just listed under Brentwood Bay, and most tourists wouldn’t think of looking there,” he said. “It’s a massive bonus for people in Sooke, with the Sooke Potholes, and Sidney, with attractions like Ocean Discovery Centre and Sidney Pier. You can see all those offerings now under one construct, which was a huge undertaking.”