Departure Bay as seen from atop Sugarloaf Mountain. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Tourism industry could only try to make the best of things this summer

With fewer visitors this year, tourism industry asking for continued support

In a year unlike any other, Nanaimo made the best of things, even if not as many visitors came to see us.

As summer winds down, businesses and tourism operators can feel like they did the best they could, all things considered. The novel coronavirus seemed like something that was faraway as spring approached, and then all of a sudden, it was here, and spring was cancelled, and a lot of scheduled summer fun, too.

“I think we all try to feel hopeful that we did what we could with what we had,” said Karen Bannister, executive director of Tourism Nanaimo. “We are a destination as Vancouver Island, so people did come to our Island to enjoy a vacation. Was it a summer like before? No.”

As the pandemic progressed, provincial health officials relaxed some of the health and safety restrictions, and some travel was encouraged within British Columbia. Bannister said Nanaimo capitalized on some of that, with people from urban centres who had been cooped up inside during the spring eager to enjoy the Island’s wide-open outdoor spaces.

“It was super quiet in the spring, and then June 1 hit and the provincial parks opened and everybody wanted to get out of their houses,” said Sarah Littlejohn, co-owner and marketing director of Living Forest Oceanside Campground.

She said visitor numbers were pretty close to normal in the summer, and people who were visiting were able to do a lot of the “amazing outdoor activities” that drew them to Nanaimo.

“Most of them that are coming here are coming because of what Nanaimo is and where we’re located,” said Dan Brady, executive director of the Nanaimo Hospitality Association. “We’re paddling, we’re kayaking, we’re mountain biking, we’re in the forest, walking to streams and rivers and waterfalls and there’s lots of that.”

But although campgrounds were busy, hotels weren’t. Brady said there were a few good weeks, but added that even if hotels were able to fill a lot of their rooms, the excess inventory drove rates down.

“All things considered in the accommodation sector, we did OK,” he said. “Not good, but OK.”

Brady pointed to the hospitality association’s ‘We’re Ready for You’ campaign during the summer and said businesses took that to heart and were diligent about being cleaner and safer than ever.

“If you looked at the campaign, you didn’t see much about ‘book this’ or ‘take advantage of this rate offer,’” he said. “It was all just, we’re clean, we’re cleaning, we’re safe and we’re following protocols.”

READ ALSO: Nanaimo tourism contest assures visitors ‘we’re ready for you’

Bannister said that was important, as tourists wanted those assurances. She said a lot of the calls to the visitor information centre were inquiries about what tourists should expect regarding safety protocols. People wanted to know they were welcome, and were assured they were.

“Our operators demonstrated a lot of resiliency, tuning into the health and safety protocols and consumer confidence messaging,” Bannister said. “Tourism Vancouver Island’s resiliency program that we developed was really trying to make sure that they had that information, as well, whenever they needed our support.”

Tourism businesses will now need support from a few different sources. The Tourism Industry Association of B.C. had asked that $680 million of the provincial government’s $1.5-billion pandemic recovery package go to tourism and in a bulletin to members last week, counted $100 million to support tourism, as well as $300 million for recovery grants for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Brady said those in the industry had been anxious to hear more about government support, noting that there are no conventions coming, no sports tourism and no group tours booked.

“We got through the summer, but now is crunch time. We need some big support or we won’t have a tourism industry in 2021 and 2022,” he said.

Bannister said the tourism industry strongly supports ongoing conversations with the government about recognizing the industry’s needs.

“Unlike an appliance store where the demand may always be there, we’re more of a discretionary investment and we’ve got a long road of recovery ahead of us,” she said.

In the short term, Bannister said she’s hopeful that fall travel will be brisk and that British Columbians can be encouraged to come to Nanaimo for an extended weekend holiday to explore the outdoors. Brady said hospitality providers hope people will travel the Island, use Nanaimo as a hub and shop local and support local.

“The positive spin, really, is the businesses themselves and the resiliency that they’ve demonstrated,” he said. “Some businesses have suffered great losses and challenges and we recognize that, but they’re still passionate and they’re still working really hard.”

READ ALSO: B.C. reopening but tourism facing long-term recovery, say Vancouver Island MLAs

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An arrest warrant has been issued for Brian Thomas, of Nanaimo, who is accused of throwing a “spear-like object” at a vehicle. (Photo submitted)
Warrant out for Nanaimo man who allegedly threw ‘spear-like object’ at vehicle

Brian Thomas failed to make court appearance, say RCMP

Items seized over four days of targeted vehicle checks Nanaimo and Victoria by members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. (CFSEU-BC photo)
Gang enforcement team seizes drugs and weapons in Nanaimo and Victoria

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. checked 33 vehicles over four days

Nanaimo RCMP Bike Patrol Unit members ride past Wesley Street on Tuesday morning. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo RCMP investigate knife threat, make arrest for alleged drug trafficking

Drugs, cash and knife found in belongings of man who matched description of suspect

Beef to the lady who backed into my car at the gas station at Rutherford Road. Thanks for damaging one of the nice things I have worked hard for while you went on your way enjoying your day.
Beefs & Bouquets, Oct. 28

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Cowichan Search and Rescue set up near the Silver Bridge in Duncan on Wednesday morning, Oct. 28, 2020 to rescue a dog from the Cowichan River. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Search and Rescue save dog from icy Cowichan River

Search and Rescue’s swiftwater team was called in

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

The Calgary Zoo is aiding in recovery efforts for the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species. Pictured here, a marmot at Mount Washington. (Black Press file)
Despite challenges, 2020 good year for Vancouver Island marmot population

In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; this year, it reached 46

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

Most Read