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Year-round tourism is becoming norm for Victoria

Tourism is increasingly becoming a year-round industry for Greater Victoria, bringing more money and more jobs to the region. There isn’t one magic bullet driving this evolution.
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Passenger disembark at the Inner Harbour after a whale-watchiing tour. May 2018

Tourism is increasingly becoming a year-round industry for Greater Victoria, bringing more money and more jobs to the region.

There isn’t one magic bullet driving this evolution. It is a result of work on many fronts as tourism officials promote the region and respond to international events and trends.

Tourism sector revenues have climbed annually since 2013 and Paul Nursey, president and chief executive officer of Tourism Victoria, is confident that will continue this year, marking five years in a row of revenue increases.

Revenues were up in March this year by 17 per cent versus the same month in 2017, he said.

Last year “started slow and ended strong,” he said. “So this year, we started strong and hope to continue strong.”

Total visitors reached 3.962 million in 2016, the most recent total annual figures available. That’s a climb from the 3.6 million the region had been seeing, Nursey said.

There has been a focus on attracting more visitors in off-peak periods. “Our conference business has gone up a great deal. We’ve been working really hard on that. That really helps everyone to be active year-round.”

Tourism Victoria took on marketing for the Victoria Conference Centre just over a year ago. The centre marked a second straight year of growth last year, coming in with 108,836 “delegate days.” That is up from 106,808 in 2016. A key benefit is a 3.5 per cent increase in the number of hotel room nights sold, rising to 26,399 last year.

“We’ve got to prove that it is going to be a year-round proposition and we are starting to see that happen. Because it is going to be challenging to add more people in the peak season of July and August.” Developing a 12-month destination requires a lot of work, he said. “That’s working on conference business, meetings business, and you have to have product year-round.”

A year-round offering is an indication of an industry that is growing up and becoming more sophisticated, he said.

Total direct jobs reached 16,900 in 2016 at businesses where tourists buy goods or services, said consultant InterVistas in a report released Monday by Tourism Victoria. Tourism had a $647-million impact on the gross domestic product locally.

Those jobs generated close to $460 million in direct wages and salaries, the report said.

Marketing is focused on emotions, Nursey said. For example, busy professionals can step off a plane arriving in Victoria, start relaxing and enjoy a good meal.

As more visitors arrive in the off-peak season, businesses such as hotels and restaurants are more viable, creating resilience in the tourism economy, he said.

The short-haul market — such as Vancouver and Seattle — is still a growth opportunity, Nursey said. “If we do our job well, we can largely fill the city with that (visitors from Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver), and then our international tour business complements that.”

Tourists from the short-haul regional market are “really big spenders,” Nursey said.

The ability to attract high-profile sporting events is another win for this region, he said, citing the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Hockey Championships. The tournament starts on Boxing Day and has games scheduled for Victoria and Vancouver.

Nursey made his comments at the start of Tourism Week in Canada.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com