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Hotel project puts Nanaimo on international radar

Nanaimo has landed on the radar of Chinese tourists and investors with the help of a new conference centre hotel, according to the head of economic development, who predicts more spinoffs are on the way.

Investors behind a $50-million conference centre hotel announced the construction phase of the project last week. The hotel is anticipated to draw an estimated 70,000 tourists when it opens in 2017. Even without shovels in the ground, local organizations and businesses have reported an interest in capitalizing on the new market, as well as an increase in Chinese tourists and investors thanks in part to destination awareness by those behind the skyscraper hotel.

Sasha Angus, chief executive officer of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, says his office gets two or three investment inquiries a week compared to 2012 when inquiries ranged from one every five to 10 days and he’s seen the rubber hit the road on a number of deals, including the conference centre hotel and Hilton. Chinese entrepreneurs are also buying sole proprietorships and small and medium-sized businesses, he said, adding he’s seen five business transactions in nine months.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick as far as the amount of inquiries and the uptick in the number of transactions that have taken place both on a commercial and residential level and we are likely to see that increase over the next few years as well,” he said.

Businesses like DTZ Nanaimo have started to prepare for the market by participating in a language and cultural awareness pilot program put on by the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association and Literacy Central Vancouver Island while others are waiting to see the hotel complete.

DTZ, a commercial real estate brokerage, has seen a lot more inquiries including from China since the hotel got its legs a year ago and company controller Dan Kucherka expects activity to compound in coming years. The more people who come to Nanaimo and tell their friends about it, the more people are going to be interested and aware of the area, he said.

“[The hotel] is a game changer,” he said. “It’s way beyond filling up the conference centre. It’s that one big project that could have a ripple effect. There are other projects being talked about as a result. For us and our business we feel … it’s the start of a new time here.”

Tony Adema, owner of Acme Food Co., says he could look at dressing up the restaurant to be inviting to new guests but it’s something he’ll think about once the hotel is finished. He is still “cautiously optimistic” about the project until he sees people out there with power equipment and excavators.

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