Incentives aim to bolster tourism industry

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation is spending $125,000 this year to develop new tourism initiatives

New cash incentives could be the ticket to turning Nanaimo into a tourism hot spot, industry experts say.

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation has announced a $125,000 cash pot for tourism attraction ideas that can help put the Harbour City on the map.

According to tourism officials, Nanaimo is still being used as a stopover rather than a vacation destination. In 2011, 75 per cent of the people visiting the Nanaimo and Regional Visitor Centre reported they were staying in the area for less than a day – lending to reduced tourism spending in the region.

With a new Vancouver Island Conference Centre hotel potentially attracting new visitors, Nanaimo has an opportunity to start building attractions that will keep people in the city longer, experts say.

Dollars from the new tourism development fund will go toward tourism infrastructure, feasibility studies and sport tourism events that will trigger greater overnight stays.

“When we did the tourism strategy, it was quickly identified that Nanaimo needs to give tourists more of a reason to come to our town,” said Dan Brady, chairman of the corporation’s tourism leadership committee. “I obviously believe this is a step in the right direction … it could be just the catalyst we need.”

Tourism leaders hope the financial nudge will get new activities to market faster and nurture ideas to fruition so Nanaimo can reach its potential as a tourism hot spot. A cash pot will be released each year, with some money set aside for long-term projects.

Sasha Angus, CEO of the economic development corporation, said the project will not only provide tourists with new reasons to return to Nanaimo, but will also satisfy a potentially significant demand from groups arriving at the new conference centre hotel in future years.  The company building the hotel, SSS Manhao, estimates it will attract 70,000 tourists annually.

“From an economic development and tourism perspective if you derive more overnight stays it unlocks more economic activity. That doesn’t happen when people just come for an afternoon,” Angus said. “This development fund … will help create either new experiences or provide assistance for events or tourism infrastructure so people stay longer.”

The initiative is welcomed by the Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White III, who said the dollars could help lay the foundation for a new cultural program on Newcastle Island. The First Nation dreams of seeing two longhouses and an interpretive centre on the island to help educate visitors on the history and culture of the Coast Salish people.

NEDC tourism leadership committee is accepting applications for tourism ideas until Aug. 26. The first round of grants will be awarded at the end of September.