Victoria Clipper onboard supervisor Christi Smither serves champagne to Brianne Reda

Victoria Clipper onboard supervisor Christi Smither serves champagne to Brianne Reda

Deals leave tourists coming and going

Travel companies increasingly entice visitors here with package promotions

Since they put their first vacation package deals together in 1987, the Seattle-based Clipper Vacations company has driven the market for package deals between Washington State and Victoria.

The majority of visitors from our southern neighbour come to Victoria by boat. Clipper Vacations, Black Ball Ferry Line and B.C. Ferries have all moved to entice those visitors with package deals.

The Victoria Clipper, a foot passenger ferry, leads the charge with 51 per cent of their revenue coming “off-boat.” It’s one of, if not the biggest, third-party seller of hotel rooms in Victoria, and partners with 60 hotels.

But competition for passengers among the ferry companies isn’t with each other, says Clipper Vacations president and CEO Darrell Bryan, it’s with the airlines, which offer frequency and low fares to Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In fact, Bryan and two of Black Ball’s top agents are not only on speaking terms, their next meeting is dinner and a Seattle Mariners game later this spring.

“We actually encouraged Black Ball to get package deals going,” Bryan says. “We even offered to set the program up for B.C. Ferries too, and they eventually did it themselves. Ferry operators need to think outside of the boat. Ancillary revenue does a lot to offset the cost of the ferries.”

Black Ball runs the Coho ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria and started partnering with hotels and activity companies on both sides of the water five years ago.

While the Coho is a vehicle ferry, more than 30 per cent of its 400,000 total passengers in 2012 were on foot. Vacation packages, to Victoria in particular, are designed for both types of traveller.

“Walk on packages are more popular. The big benefit to the great hotels of downtown Victoria is having the local dock in walking distance,” says Ryan Malane, director of marketing for Black Ball. “The popularity of our vacation packages has grown dramatically in the past two years especially.”

The big game these days is convincing people to stay a little longer on the other end of the route.

“(Early projections) for 2013 look a lot like 2012, which was nothing special,” Bryan says. “We used to say the summers take care of themselves, but that’s no longer the case.”

This winter for instance, Washington residents had the chance to take advantage of deep discounts on round trips from Seattle to Victoria with two night stays at the Hotel Grand Pacific for less than $200.

About 38 per cent of Clipper riders stay overnight, and Bryan is aiming to move the needle up just a couple more points to 40 per cent.

Ideally, it means that many more guests are participating in activities with Clipper Vacations partners.