Tourism season off to sluggish start

Tourism season off to sluggish start for some operators while others have seen an increase in visitors.

Many tourism operators saw a sluggish start to the season, but sunny August skies brought an increase in visitors.

Mark Drysdale, executive director of Tourism Nanaimo, said it’s been slow at visitor information locations this year.

The Beban Park location had 6,096 visitors to the end of July, compared to 7,460 the same time last year. The Vancouver Island Conference Centre kiosk had 3,998 visits compared to 4,710 in 2010.

Overall, tourism numbers have steadily dropped for the past three years, said Drysdale. Tourism peaked in 2008 after climbing steadily for five years.

Weather could be a factor because visits increased in August, but it’s hard to track its influence, said Drysdale. He said Canada’s rising dollar is more likely to blame than cloudy skies.

“It’s the parity of the American dollar that is really slamming us,” he said.

The popular outdoor tourist destination, Wild Play Element Parks, also saw low numbers in this spring and in early summer.

Jennifer Doyle, Wild Play manager, said with the August sunshine, visits started climbing again and the organization is on track to be on par with numbers from last August.

“With the sunshine we have lots of families travelling looking to do more active things,” said Doyle.

Tourist trips on the Nanaimo Harbour Ferry are also down. Barry Hobbis, vice president of operations for the ferry, said business was down in spring and in June, but local ridership increased.

Group tours and wedding ferry bookings decreased significantly this year – group tours fell 50 per cent and wedding bookings were down 45 per cent.

“It’s huge – absolutely huge,” said Hobbis.

However, the Nanaimo Museum and the Dorchester Hotel have seen increased numbers so far this year.

The museum had more visits so far than last year’s total visits. This year 37,658 people visited the museum up to the end of July compared to last year’s total of 34,295. Yet the majority of visitors are local.

Out of this year’s total, 3,000 were from out of town compared to 2,300 last year. The visitor numbers include museum programs, admissions to the museum and Bastion and noon cannon firing attendance.

Bobbi Williamson, museum program coordinator, said visits increased due to many factors.

The Bastion wasn’t open last year while it underwent renovations and that “had a major impact” on visitor numbers, Williamson said. There were also two street fairs this year that brought a lot of foot traffic into the museum.

Paul Tilroe, general manager of the Best Western Dorchester Hotel, said this season is looking better than last.

Occupancy in June and July was up about 10 per cent and August is on par with last year.

Tilroe said the majority of guests are coming from B.C. and Alberta. But since last year, the Asian market has slowly picked up.