Loss of Undersea Gardens worrisome for Greater Victoria tourism

Sidney aquarium operator says there's an opportunity for other tourism businesses to flourish

While he says the closure this week of Undersea Gardens in Victoria’ Inner Harbour was not completely unexpected, Angus Matthews of the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre (SODC) in Sidney added it will impact tourism throughout Greater Victoria.

“It’s a cause for concern when we lose a major tourist attraction like the Undersea Gardens,” said Matthews, the Discovery Centre’s executive director. “It’s a big loss for the tourism market in Victoria and Greater Victoria, including Sidney.”

In its place and becoming new tourist draws on the region, he continued, are whale watching tours, festival events and environmental tourism opportunities. Matthews said he felt Undersea Gardens and the SODC were complimentary attractions an the loss of one of them will have both an impact on tourism and an opportunity for the Sidney aquarium.

“I never saw us in competition with Undersea Gardens,” he explained. “They were more of a tourist attraction and we have a large educational role on the Salish Sea.”

Matthews said there is opportunity for the Centre to reach a new audience by offering Undersea Gardens seasons pass holders free admission to the Sidney aquarium, a gesture he said he hopes might bring more people to Sidney.

“It could be good for Sidney, in conjunction with the Distinctly Sidney marketing of (the BIA), and we can better position ourselves in the region.”

Matthews said the SODC is doing well, with visitors up this year over last. He said the difference between Undersea Gardens and SODC is the cost of doing business. While the Inner Harbour facility was a floating, self-contained facility paying a lease — and all of the costs associated with that — the SODC has use of free space in the Sidney Pier Hotel building and is a not-for-profit organization, relying on grants, fund-raising and patrons to cover its costs.