Spotlight on core review: Nanaimo conference centre needs support to flourish

NANAIMO – Core review designates conference centre as best use of the property but highlighted lack of collaborative marketing as drawback.

Vancouver Island Conference Centre management is looking for a team-approach to marketing Nanaimo as a conference destination.

“If you inherit a child, or adopt a child, under your governance … if you demotivate it and/or not give it the opportunity to accelerate, what happens to that child?” asked Denise Tacon, general manager of the conference centre. “In the same context, if we don’t shout out loud at how great a facility we have, at how wonderful a community we have, the opportunities that are here for tourism and the destination itself and all the growth potential, then essentially we aren’t doing anything but the status quo.

“We aren’t reaching out and being collaborative enough to go to the next level with this entire region.”

Nanaimo’s core services review, released in May, saw the Vancouver Island Conference Centre as the best use of the property, but not before highlighting issues and factors affecting the viability of the eight-year-old facility, including the lack of a collaborative destination plan.

The report referenced this year’s market feasibility study by CBRE Hotels, which raised the issue of a lack of a collaborative destination plan between Tourism Nanaimo, the conference centre and partner hotels. It said if one was implemented and there was an adjoining 150-room hotel, the conference centre would attract 4,000 more delegates and generate more overnight stays in the city. The core review considers the plan the most critical element in the success of the conference centre.

John Hankins, chief executive officer of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, previously told the News Bulletin that a third-party had been hired for 18 months to promote meeting and conventions, but that ended in April because results weren’t what was hoped for and a new strategy is in the works.

Tacon said on a yearly basis, there is talk about trade shows being attended and whether they cross over on destination, tourism or conventions and meetings so resources can be shared, but because of the cycle of leaders there’s been an up and down, lack of consistency.

“We are not gaining momentum because the plans are not always finished or finalized,” she said.

The lack of a consistent, team approach to marketing, “leaves us guessing what if,” she said of possibilities.

“If we could bring the players together that are actively affected and/or truly engaged with what needs to happen with the conference centre and we can find a developer to be part of a development process for hotel rooms, I think that we could essentially move this and the optics to a conference centre to the next level in a positive way,” she said. “Until there is everybody able to contribute that and be in the same sandbox then we are kind of doing the best that we can.”

Tacon said markets are actively pursued and there’s been a slow but sure climb in revenue and delegate days, from 19,000 delegate days to 23,000 last year and a projected 25,000 for this year.

The core services review report up for public discussion and feedback at an e-town hall meeting on Monday (Sept. 12). To read more about the conference centre, please see the report on the city’s website at  www.nanaimo.ca.