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Residents can help boost tourism by sharing best things about Nanaimo

‘What residents like, visitors like, and vice-versa,’ says Tourism Nanaimo exec
A B.C. Ferries vessel passes by Nanaimo’s Protection Island after departing from Duke Point Terminal last month. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Residents get to experience the Best of the City every day, and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves – we should be looking for opportunities to spread the good word about Nanaimo.

“It’s so important,” said Jenn Houtby-Ferguson, interim executive director of Tourism Nanaimo. “What residents like, visitors like, and vice-versa.”

The Harbour City always welcomes visitors, tourists and newcomers, and residents who feel pride of place make a difference when they share what they love about the city with their friends, family and acquaintances, said Houtby-Ferguson.

“We’re encouraging people to get out and participate in the events and help share what’s happening in our community and share their favourite experiences,” she said. “That resident perspective is really important and we don’t take that for granted.”

This past summer in Nanaimo started to resemble the summers that we remember as Bathtub Weekend and other festivals enlivened the waterfront and the Commercial Street Night Market crowds packed the downtown core each week. Houtby-Ferguson said from a tourism perspective, it was nice to have people back travelling and international travel gave a lift to some local tourism operators.

“[Visitors] were not returning at the levels that we’re used to, of course, it was a little softer in that way, but we still had, I think, a very strong summer largely,” she said. “We’re hearing very positive things from our operators.”

She said room rates were high at hotels, suggesting there was plenty of demand for accommodations.

Dave McQuinn, general manager of the Coast Bastion Hotel, said although there were empty rooms every night in every hotel in the city this summer and that wasn’t the case pre-pandemic, he was very happy with how the summer went and said it met expectations.

“We’re not out of the pandemic yet, so there are some things that are just not what they were in 2018, 2019. Our festivals were not as festive, events were a little smaller. But this is where we are today, so we shouldn’t be upset or surprised…” McQuinn said. “We’ll do what we do and focus on the guests that we have and we’ll eventually get to the other side of it. It just wasn’t this summer.”

At the start of the summer, Tourism Nanaimo expressed hope that it would be able to capitalize on some overflow tourism with accommodations hard to come by in Victoria and Tofino. It’s hard to measure whether that happened, said Houtby-Ferguson, but she said the agency’s metrics show that advertising campaigns had an impact in attracting visitors from the Lower Mainland, Alberta, and even Eastern Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

“We are also usually part of a Vancouver Island itinerary,” she said. “It isn’t unusual for people to go to Victoria and then come to Nanaimo. We’re just hoping that they over-nighted here.”

READ ALSO: Nanaimo expecting overflow tourism as Victoria hotels fill up for summer

As peak tourism season ends, the focus areas shift for the fall. Tourism Nanaimo will encourage snowbirds from chillier parts of B.C. and Canada to “long-stay” or camp in Nanaimo, and there will also be emphasis on sports tourism and attracting meetings, conferences and other events.

Tourism Nanaimo came back under the City of Nanaimo’s purview in 2022 and Houtby-Ferguson said there will be a branding exercise in the fall, initiation of a destination strategy in the spring, and plenty of opportunities for the public and stakeholders to have a say on strategic directions.

“We’re extremely positive about the future of this city,” said McQuinn. “We have a dynamic new Tourism Nanaimo that are really doing great things. They are selling the destination now … The future is going to be rosy. We just need the pandemic to be nice and not beat us up in the fall.”

READ ALSO: Nanaimo’s Best of the City winners and runners-up revealed

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