When Elton Walker officially began West Coast Brewery Tours last year, he knew he could be onto something big.
He’d been looking to find a way into Victoria’s thriving craft beer industry for years, and after studying the tourism numbers in 2014, the timing never seemed better. And he was right.
Victoria’s tourism numbers are red hot this summer and so is Walker’s business. The tours, run twice a day from Tuesday to Saturday, are booked up a week in advance, and it’s not just with tourists looking to sample some of the city’s finest brews.
“I was surprised how many locals wanted to come out and see what’s happening behind the scenes of the local breweries. They already know about the beer we have here in town, but they don’t know how it’s made,” said Walker, describing business this summer as crazy.
“The timing was just right. We’re in a craft beer revolution right now.”
Walker is hardly alone when it comes to having a booming business in Victoria this summer.
According to recent statistics from Tourism Victoria, there’s been significant growth in hotel rates and revenue — in some cases the best in years.
Year-to-date sees occupancy up 4.76 per cent and the average daily room rate is up 7 per cent.
The revenue per available room has increased by 15 per cent.
Tickets sold through the visitor centre for local businesses also reported an increase of 80.6 per cent in sales in June over the same time last year. Year-to-date, the centre has seen a 100 per cent increase over 2014 through the addition of various attractions, tours and transportation member ticket sales.
So who’s coming here? It’s all over the map, said Paul Nursey, CEO of Tourism Victoria.
“We’re seeing increases in Canada (visitors), we’re seeing increases out of the USA, parts of the west coast, in conference business. We’re seeing an increase in cruise business, Japan, Asia, Australia, and also Europe,” said Nursey, adding the low Canadian dollar doesn’t seem to be a driving factor for Americans to travel north of the border.
Many of the tourists flock around the inner harbour or indulge in the local dining scene. This year there has also been a great deal of interest in the birth of baby orcas.
Nursey said it’s important to note that the city has been building towards a tourist boom during the last three years. The Tourism Victoria marketing and communications team has also become more efficient in promoting what the city has to offer on a global scale, and the Pacific Northwest region of North America is turning into a hot vacation destination.
“I really think the Pacific Northwest of North America is becoming the next super region. Think of the great cities and destinations that are clustered right there, and how deeply we’re connected with our transportation links,” said Nursey, noting Victoria is ranked the 17th best destination in the world by Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
“I think we stand on our own two feet, but we’re part of a burgeoning region. It really is exciting.”
Tourism Victoria plans to conduct a deep economic impact study throughout 2015. The last one was in 2011, which showed $1.9 billion was generated by tourism to the local economy and 19,000 direct jobs were created.
After three solid years of growth, Nursey expects those numbers will be much larger in the next study as small businesses such as Walker’s continue to reel in the results of a booming tourism industry.
— Pamela Roth