Tourism outlook bright for 2015

Low Canadian dollar, gas prices expected to fuel surge in visitors from south of border

Thanks in large part to the low Canadian dollar and lower gas prices, Campbell River is expecting recent gains in seasonal tourism to take another jump this summer. And the tourist season may be growing longer, as well.

“I did a consumer trade show in the U.S. and from everything I heard, the Canadian dollar is going to be a factor,” said Teresa Davis, manager of Tourism Campbell River & Region. “We’re looking to get a lot of American tourists this year.”

And the boost may not come from south of the border alone. Davis has spoken to industry insiders in Alberta who suggest that same dollar differential will keep many Albertans from crossing the border south for their vacations this year, and many of them may look at west coast trips, instead.

“I think the dollar being down will be in tourism’s favour,” Davis said.

That’s not all Campbell River has going for it, of course. With its proximity to outdoor recreation, wildlife and aboriginal culture, it possesses the full range of experiences most travelers are looking for according to demographic studies by Destination BC and Tourism Vancouver Island.

“The cultural explorer is the main type of traveler to Vancouver Island,” said Davis. “So they will include some type of culture with their trip, whether it’s a museum, or First Nations, or local arts. It’s definitely something people include in their trips.”

Of course, Davis adds, fishing continues to be a major draw for guests from near and far. But Tourism Campbell River & Region has shifted its emphasis in the past half-dozen years from fishing to that cultural experience, with a particular eye toward the burgeoning “eco-tourism” sector. These are visitor who don’t want to simply be shown sights, but to experience them, through nature hikes, kayaking, mountain biking and wildlife tours among orcas and grizzly bears.

“It’s shaping up to be one of the best years in the last 10 for us,” said Jack Springer, owner of Campbell River Whale Watching and Adventure Tours. “I think we’re going to see this huge push by the Americans, but it’s going to come at the last minute. And even if that doesn’t happen, I think we’re looking at the best year in a long time.

“Campbell River is kind of at the right place at the right time.”

The community will also receive a brief economic boost from visitors much closer to home, as Campbell River hosts the Tourism Vancouver Island Annual General Meeting and Conference this summer. It will be the first time the conference has been hosted by the region since 2003, when it was held in Sayward.

“We’ll have about 150 people attending from other (Island) communities, and it’s a great opportunity to showcase what we have,” said Davis. “At other conferences I have been to, you get a real feel for what the (host) community is about.”

A recent report released by Destination BC showed Campbell River’s hotel occupancy rate climbed 2.2 per cent last year over 2013 totals, with some of the biggest increases occurring in the “shoulder season” months of April, September and October.

“September, 10 year ago, was shoulder season,” said Springer. “But right now, September is our busiest month, busier than July and August. Looking at our pre-bookings, September is slammed.”

Campbell River also showed a 12.3 per cent increase year-over-year in passenger volume in 2014, with more than 7,000 passengers in the peak months of July and August. The Visitor Center had 38,852 visitors in 2014, a one per cent increase over 2013.

But hotel bookings, airport landings and Visitor Centre stats tell only part of the story.

“There are people who stay with friends and family, people who stay at campgrounds,” said Davis. “There’s other people, for instance, from Alberta, who have homes here. They’re all numbers you’d like to capture, but you just can’t do it.”