Businesses in the Harbour City are preparing for a Chinese tourist boom – beginning with language lessons.
Downtown Nanaimo is banking on construction of a new $50-million conference centre hotel to drive up Chinese tourism with an estimated 70,000 visitors each year.
It’s a major market, according to businesses and tourism organizations now taking steps to roll out the welcome mat.
The Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association and Literacy Central Vancouver Island plan to boost cultural sensitivity by teaching shop owners and front-line staff Mandarin and Chinese business customs. Businesses are seeking new products to appeal to Chinese visitors and translated signs for tourists could be placed downtown.
The first tour group will be brought to Nanaimo by hotel owner SSS Manhao this fall in anticipation of the company building its new hotel. It will be a test run for downtown shops, according to Cory Hostetter, general manager of the DNBIA.
“This will definitely be a learning experience to find out what we can do to make the visitor experience a little more pleasant,” she said. “If we think of [70,000] tourists coming throughout city … that number is huge. Obviously we want to be as best prepared [as possible] to have them.”
The City of Nanaimo unanimously approved selling its Gordon Street property to SSS Manhao International Tourism Group in July under the condition the new build is completed within three years.
The company has already started to advertise Nanaimo as a destination for tourists and plans to eventually bring tens of thousands of Chinese visitors into the city for overnight stays.
Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation CEO Sasha Angus said the market will be a “real asset” for the city but there is a lot of work ahead to make sure Nanaimo is ready for the visitor influx.
Businesses are interested in the growing tourism market, but still have questions about how they can take advantage of the opportunity, he said, adding workshops in rudimentary Mandarin and business customs will help.
The corporation plans to help businesses tap into the potential tourism windfall with new, translated marketing material and an online profile of the city. It is also mulling tourist signs in Mandarin to make the city feel more hospitable for its new visitors.
Other potential changes in downtown Nanaimo include altered menus to appeal to the palates of tour groups and new store products.
Willow Friday, owner of House of Indigo Boutique, said she recognizes the potential for her business to benefit from the new tourism growth and is glad she’ll be able to tap into lessons in language and etiquette. She plans to open a larger store and wants to offer the right activities, gifts and attitude to pique tourists’ interest and persuade them to open their wallets.
“I think [this market] will bring in some big changes to the city … obviously 70,000 [people] a year is going to be significant,” she said. “To not pay attention to that as a business owner would not be wise.”