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New hotels could boost conference centre’s annual revenues

If the Vancouver Island Conference Centre is Nanaimo’s damsel in distress, then two new downtown hotels are being seen as its knights in shining armor.

“Without these two hotels I would be reluctant to be optimistic,” said Mayor John Ruttan in response to the subsidies for the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

“While it’s a ways away I do feel these two hotels in particular could be a game changer for the conference centre. That’s what we are all hanging our hats on at this point.”

This year the City of Nanaimo has seen the official ribbon-cutting for the SSS Manhao hotel, marking the construction phase for a 21-storey skyscraper next to the conference centre, as well as a proposal for the Hilton hotel on Front Street. According to Nanaimo city officials, quality hotel rooms and more volume of business are key to the conference centre reaching its full potential and relying less on taxpayer subsidies. Ruttan hopes the latest hotels signal a “turnaround point” that could put the conference centre back on track if the ventures support conferences and guests.

Since its first full year in 2009, the conference centre has gone over budget three times and taxpayers have paid more than $900,000 annually in operating subsidies. In 2014, operators forecast they will go $119,000 over their  $1.06-million budget, thanks to fewer bookings and lower than anticipated revenue.

The operators are doing what they can, according to Denise Tacon, general manager of the conference centre, who says while numbers could change by the end of the year, they are also facing challenges ranging from ferry fares to available room inventory.  The hotel, however, could open new opportunities.

“Offering more accommodation in the downtown core allows us the opportunity to explore some of those groups that ultimately weren’t interested unless there was such a thing,” she said. “As well as this particular hotel allows us sort of a strong … line to another international market.”

Tacon believes it is possible to see a reduction in taxpayers’ subsidy and growth, and says “at this stage we are very optimistic of the direction where this is going.”

The new hotel is expected to open by 2017.

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