The MV Coho sails into Port Angeles

The MV Coho sails into Port Angeles

The view from the U.S.

This is no secret: American visitors love Greater Victoria

People are nice in Victoria.

It’s a common statement, and one you’d expect to hear from visitors. Otherwise, why else would they be here?

“I encounter a lot of people who’ve not been to Victoria for 15 years, and I have to remind them how much it has grown,” says Clipper Ferry president and CEO Darrell Bryan.

“Generally, Americans like Canadians, but Victoria does need some new attractions. Miniature World and the Undersea Gardens don’t have the same effect they did,” he says.

Nice, maybe, but with the weakened U.S. dollar, there are still fewer visitors to Victoria than there was prior to 2008.

The number of incoming tourists is difficult to gauge, but the most significant indicators are the inbound ferry routes from Washington.

The car-carrying Coho ferry from Port Angeles reports an approximate total of 400,000 round trip fares sold for its Victoria route, mostly from Port Angeles. The Clipper passenger-ferry runs harbour-to-harbour from Seattle to Victoria, but won’t release its ridership numbers. The Clipper did post an 11 per cent boost in ridership for 2012, its biggest increase in four years.

A safe estimate puts the Clipper at least on par with the 115,264 who rode Washington State Ferry’s car-carrying route from Anacortes to Sidney.

Historically, 90 per cent of the Clipper’s ridership initiates out of Seattle, though that number is now 86 per cent, because of a growth in Canadians going the other way.

Seattle’s demographic has changed with an influx of employees coming to work on the high-tech campuses of Amazon, Google and Microsoft, each the size of a small city.

“The average age in that area is under-35,” Bryan says. “And it’s a lot of out-of-towners. We’re trying to push Victoria as an affordable, walking friendly city.”

To do so, the Clipper is changing Victoria’s image by packaging whale watching, paddle boarding, kayaking and ziplining with its boarding passes.

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Victoria will always have its eye on Washington as a target market for tourists, but that goes both ways.

The biggest shift in ferry ridership to Washington is the growth of Vancouver Island residents on the ships. Canadian ridership on the Clipper was up 38 per cent in February. Port Angeles is increasing its push to entertain Islanders with its summer calendar.

“The residents of Victoria are our market and their visits bring a lot to our community,” says Russ Veenema, executive director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

Port Angeles relies on two anchors to weigh down its tourism industry, the Coho and Olympic National Park.

Last year’s Dungeness Crab Fest, which happens in October, was the first instance the Coho sold out its walk-on passenger load from Victoria.

Drawing Islanders to Port Angeles are the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts in May, the North Olympic Discovery Marathon in June, and Ride the Hurricane cycling event in August.

And it’s people passing through that has Port Angeles finding ways to keep them around.

“We estimate 20 to 25 per cent of our hotel rooms during summer are visitors taking the morning ferry to Victoria. People come from other states and their ultimate destination is Victoria. We want to keep them here for half-a-day, or at least a few hours.”

We asked U.S. visitors ‘what do you like about Victoria?’

“I came to

celebrate my birthday.

I like the shopping.

And all the brewpubs here.”

Paris Bishop,

Port Angeles, Wash.

 

“I love everything about Canada. I hope to see the Royals play and make it over for a Canucks game.”

Gregg Griffin,

Houston, Tex.

 

“It’s a great place to get away for the weekend and do a little bit of bar-hopping.”

Thomas William,

Port Angeles, Wash.

 

“It’s so pretty here. As soon as I get off the boat it’s like ‘oh

my gosh.’ I just love it here.”

Kayla Montanez,

Sequim, Wash.

 

I’ve been to Victoria quite a few times and I love everything about it here. But my kids haven’t been yet, so this is their first trip. My (teenage) son is looking forward to visiting the antique and military surplus stores.

Mysicqa Baker,

Edmonds, Wash.

 

“I don’t remember much from my first trip here so I’m glad to come back. This time (my family) will rent a car and drive up to Nanaimo. We’ll hit up everything we can this weekend.”

Niels Nelson,

Edmonds, Wash.