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A day in the life of a Victoria pedicab driver: Beating sun and bustling tourism

Tourism business is brisk again after two years of very little activity
Laurie and Rich Klein on a Victoria Pedicab Co. tour with owner Andrew Capeau. KATIE DeROSA

After two summers during which Victoria’s cruise ship terminal was a veritable ghost town, the sight of thousands of tourists disembarking from the docked Royal Caribbean Ovation is magical for Andrew Capeau.

The Victoria Pedicab Co. owner posts up at Ogden Point cruise ship terminal every afternoon, armed with a smile and his best sales pitch.

It didn’t take much convincing for New Jersey couple Laurie and Rich Klein.

“I saw the bus with 60 people and a pedicab with the two of us,” Laurie said, as Capeau shepherded the pair through the streets of downtown Victoria on a yellow, three-wheeled converted bike branded with advertisements from local businesses.

The couple’s visit to B.C.’s capital, the last stop on a weeklong Alaskan cruise, was two years in the making for the Kleins, who postponed the family holiday planned for spring of 2020 because of the pandemic.

While Capeau likes to point out historical landmarks, he said most of his passengers ask about daily life in Victoria, such as the biggest employer and the price of a house.

Capeau, who just before the pandemic invested $75,000 to convert his 32 pedicab bikes to electric assist, clocks about 40 kilometres a day ferrying tourists between Craigdarroch Castle, Fisherman’s Wharf, Beacon Hill Park, and Dallas Road.

“I always tell people, ‘Don’t feel guilty,’ ” the trim 56-year-old says when people feel self-conscious about relaxing while their driver pedals.

Wearing a ball cap, runners, shorts and T-shirt, Capeau barely breaks a sweat as he cycles, splitting his attention between pedestrians and traffic lights and chatting with his fares.

The previous two summers were rough for pedicab operators, who rely on cruise ship passengers and international visitors to survive. Last summer, Capeau’s sales were just five per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Things have finally turned around.

“It’s been a banner year,” he said, smiling over cocktails, a treat from his customers. “There’s a pent up demand.”

Transport Canada reopened Canadian ports to cruise ships in April 2022, and B.C. terminals in Victoria and Vancouver are once again booming.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, which oversees the Ogden Point cruise ship terminal, estimates 750,000 passengers will arrive in Victoria aboard 350 cruise ships this year. About half of those have already arrived.

The Port of Vancouver has seen 175 cruise ships dock at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal since April 10, according to Mandy Chan, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s manager of cruise services.

The 2022 season has about eight more ships scheduled compared to 2019, but the authority did not give an estimate of passenger numbers since cruise ship occupancy was expected to be lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Destination Greater Victoria CEO Paul Nursey said hotel occupancy in B.C.’s capital is almost back to 2019 levels, just eight per cent shy when comparing the first half of 2022 to the same period in 2019.

Recovery, Nursey said, hasn’t been as quick for tourism operators that rely on international visitors, such as the Clipper ferry to Seattle and the Black Ball Ferry to Port Angeles, since international travel is not back in full force.

Destination B.C. is seeing similar trends across the province.

Tourism from domestic travellers has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with overnight visits from Canadians up 37 per cent for April to June 2022 compared to the same time period in 2021, and up 16 per cent over the same time period in 2019.

International tourism continues to lag, according to Destination B.C., particularly since key markets in Asia have not fully reopened to travel.

In May 2022, there were 285,282 international and U.S. overnight visitors to B.C., compared to 57,646 visitors in May 2021. This year’s visitor numbers are still 54 per cent lower than the 1.9 million international guests in May 2019.

“It takes some time for a whole industry that was shut down to get back up again worldwide,” Nursey said.

As the Kleins settle down for a patio lunch, Capeau lays the groundwork for their next visit to B.C., recommending a float plane ride from Vancouver to Victoria before returning them to their boat.

Capeau, who has been in the pedicab business for 20 years, said making personal connections with tourists is what will draw them back year after year.

“Share yourself, get connected with people,” he said. “It’s about meeting people and learning their lives.”