The Harbour City could become a base camp for international tourists looking to explore Vancouver Island, tourism officials say.
Two luxury skyscraper hotels are planned for the downtown in the next half-decade and tourism officials say they are confident Nanaimo can eventually help to not only lure international guests, but provide them with a home base to explore an itinerary of Vancouver Island highlights.
When it comes to tourist attractions, Nanaimo is still considered a destination in progress. Tourism Nanaimo is offering cash incentives to help grow ideas that will increase overnight stays and put the region on the map, while the Nanaimo Hospitality Association proposes using a two-per cent hotel tax to fund and market new draws for tourists.
According to those in the tourism industry, Nanaimo is still being used as a stopover rather than a vacation destination. Seventy-five per cent of people visiting the Nanaimo and Regional Visitor Centre in 2011 reported they were staying in the area for less than a day. The push is to create more destination appeal through activities and attractions like an ocean discovery centre and harbour tours. But experts also say that even without the major draws, the city has the chance to attract and entertain through a base-camp philosophy.
The Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation is currently working with SSS Manhao, proponents of the conference centre hotel, to see if they could use Nanaimo as a spring board to see other parts of the region.
“From a Nanaimo perspective, we have an opportunity to become sort of a base camp,” said Sasha Angus, chief executive officer of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation. “They may well swing into Cowichan to take in wine tasting or swing up north to visit the beaches or wildlife there, but tend to call Nanaimo home while they are here.”
International visitors could be drawn to Nanaimo as part of tours with SSS Manhao, or by franchise loyalty to the proposed Hilton Hotel, while others will choose the Harbour City for more moderately-priced stays than Vancouver or Victoria in the high season or because they like the idea of being based in the city, according to Dan Brady, chairman of the hospitality association.
“To do a day trip to Tofino from Victoria just doesn’t work but you can do it out of Nanaimo,” said Brady, who also believes tourists could come here and use the city like a base camp. “It’s going to be interesting times ahead as we watch how this whole thing develops.”