Warm welcome: Greater Victoria ready to embrace another banner year in tourism

Tourism is poised for another memorable year in the capital region, hardly skipping a beat after a sparkling 2017.

“There’s really very little that’s going to hold us back this year,” said Frank Bourree, principal with Chemistry Consulting, which monitors the sector. “The price of gas is going up, but the dollar’s still in the right zone to attract U.S. visitation — and those numbers are growing.

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“We’re seeing bigger growth out of the U.S. and Asia-Pacific than the rest of Canada, and B.C., so it’s all strong.”

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Paul Nursey, Tourism Victoria’s president and CEO, said tourism has been on the upswing for some time.

“We’re kind of on five winning years,” he said. “2013 was our turnaround year.”

Nursey said the best course is to be prepared for whatever comes.

“You never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens, because our industry is so driven by consumer confidence,” he said. “However, the foundations are there for a very solid year, largely because of strong conference numbers and some unique one-time events.”

Those unique happenings include the World Junior Hockey Championships beginning in late December and September’s World Airline Road Race — an annual gathering and running event that brings together airline professionals from around the globe.

Looking ahead is always part of the process, Nursey said.

“We’re working on 2023 right now.”

He noted that tourism is also faring well on a national scale.

Ian Poyntz, owner of Barb’s Fish & Chips, shares the rosy outlook for tourism. In his case, the positive forecast includes a new building to house his floating restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf.

“I think many economies are doing well and that usually means that tourism is up,” he said.

Succeeding in business and in tourism often comes down to one thing, Poyntz said. “I think if you have something unique to offer, whether it’s the destination or the product you’re selling, then you have a very good chance at success.”

John Wilson, president and CEO of the Wilson Group of Companies, said he is encouraged by indicators for his fleet of buses. “We foresee a good season, for sure,” he said. “Both from cruise and independent travel, and tour travel, 2018’s going to be a large season.”

While the outlook is favourable, there are some concerns in the region, Bourree said.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost 10 hotels in Victoria,” he said. “So our inventory is down and those hotels largely have either become condos or social housing.”

He said about 1,100 hotel rooms have gone in the process.

Airbnb has stepped into the market with about 1,400 to 1,500 rooms, he said, and has a role to play in accommodating the burgeoning tourism sector.

Filling tourism-related jobs is another big issue. Bourree said that a discussion with leading hoteliers made it clear to him that the state of the labour market is their “single biggest challenge.” Among the many reasons for that: Long-term employees are aging out of their jobs and the migration of workers from other provinces has dwindled “because our housing is too scarce and too expensive,” Bourree said. “People won’t move here because of that.”

As well, there are other options for people seeking work, he said, noting that unemployment here has been close to the lowest in Canada at about 3.5 per cent.

“The tourism industry is taking a beating from construction, from tech.”

One element that has shown steady improvement is the length of the tourist season, he said. “We’re doing better year-round. They used to refer to the hundred days of summer; we’re stretching those markets out into the shoulder months.”

Tourism Victoria is contributing by doing a good job of marketing the conference business, he said. “That’s helping to fill in some of those weak links within the year.”

Bourree said that Victoria maintains a top reputation as a tourist destination. “It’s a clean, green, safe place.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city is really becoming known for its vibrant atmosphere. “I think we are going to see a lot of people this year, a lot more bike tourism,” she said. “I think there’s a lot that Victoria has to offer.”

That includes a top-notch arts-and-culture scene and “tonnes of festivals,” Helps said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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