Tourists come through Oak Bay by foot and bus during the summer 2017. (Chrisitne van Reeuwyk/Oak Bay News)

Strong summer for tourism in Oak Bay

‘There’s a buzz that just continues to feed itself.’

Morgan Cross / News contributor

Compared to 2016’s consistently warm spring, things were off to a bleak start for Oak Bay Beach Hotel this year in lead-up to tourist season. With wet, cold weather lingering far longer than usual, bookings were low during the spring and, as director of sales and marketing Madone Pelan said, “no one was really thinking about summer.”

Pelan cited the slow start to summer as the first reason she didn’t expect the 2017 season to boom. The rise in B.C. forest fires and continually extended provincial state-of-emergency, she cited as the other.

“With the state of emergency and forest fires, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about British Columbia as a destination … especially for peope who don’t know B.C. well, and don’t know that Vancouver Island is relatively untouched,” said Pelan.

However, despite the wet, cold start and the misperceptions surrounding areas in B.C. affected by forest fires, this year’s revenues exceeded 2016, which was already a record-breaking year.

“We’re pacing just slightly ahead of 2016’s overall revenues,” Pelan said. “Given that we’ve had a slow start and that there is a state of emergency in British Columbia, we feel we’ve had an extraordinary summer.”

As for where all the guests are coming from, Pelan said there’s a stronger Canadian and American presence than in most years. Peak season, being summer, is typically when the hotel sees many travellers from outside of North America. “We’re seeing a lot of Canadians coming west, perhaps opting out of the U.S. this year. We’re also seeing very strong American travellers,” said Pelan, though American bookings have tended to be hesitantly booked, short-term ones compared to their international counterparts.

Travellers outside of the U.S. and Canada have come mostly from Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, China, and the Netherlands this summer.

The Avenue Gallery also noted the influx in American travellers.

“I think that because of the strong U.S. dollar, people are looking to maximize their dollar value,” said owner Heather Wheeler said, adding the gallery has seen a mix of people from all across Canada.

“We’re having our best year we’ve ever had in 15 years,” said Wheeler. She credits the influx in visitors to the rise in usage of Hop-On Hop-Off CitySights tours, the red busses which make their way around some of Greater Victoria’s most popular regions, including Oak Bay Village, where the Avenue Gallery is located.

“The bus has been running for a number of years, but for some reason, there seems to be more awareness about Oak Bay,” said Wheeler. “We’ve had lots of people say they found Oak Bay on the bus.”

She expects that a lot of Oak Bay’s newfound popularity is due to word of mouth. “[Tourism] is on an upward trend for sure. As awareness builds, as people get home from their vacations and talk to their neighbours … There’s a buzz that just continues to feed itself.”

Pelan is optimistic about an upward trend for the Oak Bay Beach Hotel as well. Already, many business meetings have been booked in Vancouver for next year, meaning that overflow business will likely enter Victoria. “Barring anything unforeseen happening, it should go well.”

editor@oakbaynews.com

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