Vancouver Island Conference Centre in downtown Nanaimo.

Nanaimo hoteliers doubt estimates on conference business

NANAIMO – The city will seek verification and clarification about actual numbers of conference delegates.

A conference centre hotel feasibility study, rather than provide answers, has raised questions.

The City of Nanaimo will seek verification and clarification about actual numbers of conference delegates after it was alerted to irregularities in the figures presented in a study prepared by CBRE Hotels and tabled in May.

Hotel operators spoke at Monday’s council meeting at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, raising doubts about the volume of conference centre delegates making overnight stays in the city. Numbers provided by conference centre management don’t jive with hoteliers’ estimates.

The feasibility study noted 14,888 room nights generated in 2015, but Dan Brady, chairman of the Nanaimo Hospitality Association, said hotel operators put that figure closer to 4,000.

Henry Traa, general manager of the Coast Bastion Hotel, said he believes the conference centre generated 2,000 overnight stays at his hotel.

“If my owner saw these numbers, they’re going to say, ‘Henry, why are they not staying with you?” Traa said. “I have to know where these 12,000 went and we need backup for that. We just can’t have this as a guessing game that you can go around, throw numbers around and we’re all going to go home and let somebody build a hotel with those numbers.”

Hotel operators said they brought their concerns to councillors on three previous occasions before Monday’s delegation of Brady, Traa and Grand Hotel owner Ashwak Sirri.

They expressed concern about the study’s findings on lost conferences. The study cited conference centre reports of 3,700 overnight delegate stays lost each year due to a lack of an attached hotel.

Traa said he was approached for about five requests for proposals for conference centre room rates in 2015. Brady said it was a long time since he’d been asked for an RFP at the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel and Sirri said it’s been years since her hotel has been invited to make an RFP.

“I can tell you our occupancy rate is way below the Coast hotel and if our rooms are sitting empty, where are those delegates that are needing the rooms that we have not been able to meet as a city?” she asked.

Traa said “we can use our imagination” and work with private bus companies, for example, to better utilize hotels like the Grand for conference centre business.

“I’ve been here 11 months now, I’ve never been in a meeting where we all got together and said, ‘look, we’re going to lose this convention. What are we going to do to save it?’” he said.

The mayor and every councillor at the meeting expressed concern with the numbers in the study.

Coun. Jim Kipp said he’s “disappointed that those figures are so erroneous” and Coun. Wendy Pratt said it’s incumbent on the city to find out why.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he didn’t want the report revised, because that would imply that the city didn’t get the answer it was looking for the first time.

“I want accuracy, and so I want to hear from the writers of the report, how they arrived at their numbers and certainly input from the hospitality association here in terms of what they think the numbers should be and let’s sort out the truth,” Thorpe said.

Denise Tacon, general manager of the conference centre, told the News Bulletin that CBRE was provided with a complete listing of the facility’s bookings for purposes of the study. She said she was aware of some discrepancy in estimates of overnight stays, but “certainly not to that degree, by any stretch.”

She said there’s always going to be some ambiguity about where delegates stay.

“Often if they don’t necessarily want that particular rate for a group, they may go under, say, a government rate or a rack rate or book alternately in a hotel or motel that isn’t part of the particular group block. There’s also a lot to be said for [bed-and-breakfasts] and a lot to be said for Airbnb, which has captured a tremendous amount of market share,” Tacon said.

She said the conference centre “can be better” at trying to track delegates’ overnight stays.

“We certainly haven’t asked the hotels to provide us that information in the past. I know that we had talked about it and I’m sure there’ll be more appetite for that now,” Tacon said.

Council unanimously supported Coun. Diane Brennan’s motion to refer the feasibility study back to staff for verification and clarification through discussion with stakeholders.

Just Posted

Nanaimo hotel tax set to go up

Hospitality association lays out five-year plan for tourism in Nanaimo

Tour de Rock ready to start making its way down Vancouver Island

Tour de Rock takes place Sept. 21 to Oct. 4

Public meeting will explore ideas to battle addiction and crime in Nanaimo

Organizers call for treatment centres, accountability for crimes, citizens’ task force

VIU students empowered to ‘shift the vote’ this election

VIU Students’ Union, B.C. Federation of Students launch ‘Our Time is Now’ campaign

Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidates ‘disappointed’ with prime minister over blackface

Situation a ‘nightmare’ for Trudeau and the Liberals, says VIU professor

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

Beefs & Bouquets, Sept. 19

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail bulletinboard@nanaimobulletin.com

Nanaimo athletes earn gold, silver, bronze at 55-Plus B.C. Games

Huge contingent of local participants competed in largest-ever 55-Plus B.C. Games in Kelowna

Nanaimo beekeepers take down nest of giant hornets

One nest eradicated at Robins Park, but there are still Asian giant hornets around

One-in-five British Columbians think they’ll win big while gambling: study

Roughly 58 per cent of British Columbians bought at least one lottery ticket in past year

Takaya, B.C.’s infamous lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Resident finds loaded shotgun inside a duffle bag in Kelowna alleyway

RCMP seized a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, clothing and other items

Graffiti, calls and Snapchat: RCMP probe string of threats targeting Kamloops schools

There have been nine different threats made to four different schools in the city

Oak Bay father’s testimony at murder trial like plot of ‘bad low-budget movie:’ Crown

Crown alleged Andrew Berry’s ‘entire story of Christmas Day is a lie’

Most Read