Islanders help boost city’s tourism stats

NANAIMO – Stay-cationers and traffic from U.S., mainland increase hotel, campground occupancy rates

Nanaimo’s tourism industry has no where to go but up.

That’s the word from Frank Bourree, principal of Victoria-based Chemistry Consulting Group Inc., on the heels of a recent tourism report.

According to Chemistry’s May tourism bulletin, the Harbour City has seen year-over-year increases in activity at the Nanaimo airport, the Vancouver Island Conference Centre and local hotels and motels.

The airport saw a 29-per cent increase in traffic over May 2013, while the average occupancy rate is up 6.4 per cent – a number that translates into $250,000 in additional room revenue when coupled with higher average daily room rates.

Vehicles and passengers for B.C. Ferries have slipped, dropping 8.5 per cent, but bus traffic is up 36 per cent.

Those in the tourism industry are optimistic the upswing in tourism will carry through the summer and beyond, thanks to awareness campaigns by Tourism Nanaimo, a resurgence in American travellers and stay-cationers. The city also skirted June-uary weather this year with less rain and higher temperatures than normal between May and July, and plans to host major multi-day events like the B.C. Summer Games.

“I think we will see great numbers for this year,” said Lesley Anderson, executive director of destination management for Tourism Nanaimo, who anticipates July alone will yield good statistics.

“I think we are seeing a lot of positive signs from the Asian markets; we are seeing rebounding of the U.S. market, we are actively promoting in the Pacific Northwest and Alberta, which are strong markets for us, we have new airline capacity … all of those things are contributing, in addition to a major sporting event.”

Scott Littlejohn, owner of Living Forest Oceanside Campground and RV Park, has seen tourism make a comeback since the 2008 recession, when people seemed to put travel plans on hold.

He’s calling this year his best-ever with double-digit increases in clientele over May alone.

With “sky-high” B.C. Ferries rates and the price of gas, Littlejohn says Islanders aren’t heading to the mainland as often. His campsite is seeing “massive” numbers of campers from Victoria.

“There’s definitely tons and tons of improvement that we can make and I guess that’s why I am feeling optimistic,” he said. “We don’t have half the puzzle pieces that we are going to have in place in the next five years.”

Ronda Johnson, owner of Westwood Lake Campground, is also busy and points out her business is trying to offer more to attract people, including outdoor movies, concession and boat rentals.

But she does feel tourism is down compared to previous years and believes B.C. Ferries fares are part of the problem.

“That’s impacted the Island huge because people are not going to pay $130 to bring their RV over one way to stay for a week and go home again,” she said.  “The rates are just crazy expensive.”