Chinese travel company close to building conference centre hotel

NANAIMO – Suzhou Youth Travel Services ready to build $50-million, 200-room hotel next to conference centre.

China’s 13th largest travel agency is just a few steps away from committing to building a hotel adjacent to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, says Sasha Angus, chief executive officer of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation.

Suzhou Youth Travel Services, headquartered near Shanghai, has indicated it is willing to build a 200-room, $50-million hotel in downtown Nanaimo to accommodate tens of thousands of tourists expected to visit the Harbour City through its travel programs annually.

Angus said the Suzhou proposal is attractive because the company is not seeking subsidies that other proposals have requested, and that the sheer volume of visitors expected will result in high occupancy ratings at their own hotel while spilling over to existing hotels that have recently been struggling to fill their rooms due to a decrease in tourism.

“We’ve been working with them for about four months now,” said Angus. “They’re in a place where they’d like to close on this as soon as possible. Another thing that was attractive to us is their ability to not only build to capacity, but to also add significant demand, which will also fulfill the conference centre’s needs.”

Mayor John Ruttan said concerns from other local hotel operators have been addressed, noting that the new hotel will attract people here who would not normally have considered Nanaimo as a  holiday destination.

“This model of bringing so many people here has virtually eliminated the anti-hotel position of the Nanaimo Hotel Association,” said Ruttan. “Members in Nanaimo were concerned another hotel would dilute the pool and already low occupancy rates … But this a whole new number of clientele we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Suzhou typically puts 40,000 customers a day on to airplanes to travel the world, and in 2010 it built its flagship hotel in Fiji. Most of its customers are married couples.

Last month, China’s tourism industry became the largest in the world with $120 billion in revenue with room for growth, and Suzhou draws from 55 million people in Suzhou province.

Working with Chinese investors mirrors the current provincial economic plan through the B.C. Liberals to build economic and education links with Asian countries with the intent of establishing strong ties to foreign markets.

Angus said Vancouver Island University and Suzhou Youth Travel Services representatives have already met a number of times and are interested in working together to foster further links for international studies at VIU.

“There is significant spinoff where the university is concerned, and obviously the broader business community, when you have 70,000 people coming in, the impact to our retailers, restaurants and other businesses will be significant as well,” said Angus.

Nanaimo’s west coast environment is becoming one of China’s hottest markets in the tourism industry.

Though the city purchased and retain the rights to the doomed Millennium/Suro conference centre hotel plans, Suzhou plans to build its own sleek 15-storey hotel featuring a restaurant on the top floor and a skywalk to the conference centre, though it will be built in the original conference centre hotel footprint on Gordon Street.

The deal is still subject to council approval and depositions, though representatives from Suzhou were expected to address council at Monday’s council meeting.

“For the future of the community, being a welcoming place where we can welcome new visitors and new investment in our community is going to be incredibly important,” said Angus. “From an NEDC perspective … we’re glad we can share it with the community and hopefully put it over the finish line.”