Tourism on mid-Vancouver Island continues to flourish in a comeback from the global recession of 2008, but a tight labour market and outside pressures will continue to challenge Parksville and Qualicum Beach in their efforts to retain and grow their tourism-related economy.
That was the message of Frank Bourree, principal owner of Victoria-based Chemistry Consulting Group, who served as guest speaker at a joint Parksville-Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre Thursday.
Opening his presentation by saying he had “great news” on the tourism front, Bourree — a 30-year veteran of the hospitality and tourism industries — noted international tourism to Canada from 2008 to 2015 was “pretty tough.” But since then, the numbers have climbed, particularly from the U.S., which still provides the lion’s share of international tourists nationwide.
“Seventy per cent of Canadian tourism is from the U.S.,” said Bourree, a former board member of Tourism B.C. and past chair of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. “And we’re getting a bigger share of U.S. tourism than the rest of Canada.
“In 2000, we hit the high-water mark for U.S. tourism, and I think we’re going to hit that this year.”
Arthur Wong, recently installed as president of the Parksville-Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, said Bourree’s numbers match what local businesses have seen in the past couple of years.
“From a tourism perspective, that’s pretty accurate,” said Wong. “In 2015 we really started to see tourism pick up again, and in 2016 it was even better. In 2017 we anticipate that will continue.”
The timing of a spike of tourism to Parksville Qualicum Beach, with the draw of its sandy beaches and mild climate, coincides with the drop in the Canadian dollar versus its U.S. counterpart. This has caused many Canadians to eschew trips they might once have taken south of the border, Bourree said.
But local businesses and tourism promoters can no longer afford to simply rest on their laurels and expect the dollars to flock their way. Bourree noted that individuals using the Airbnb (personal home rentals) and Uber (hired transportation) are increasingly biting into traditional room and vehicle rentals.
“I really think the government is going to have to look at regulations for both of these groups,” he said.
Parksville and Qualicum Beach may benefit from increased traffic from Victoria and Nanaimo, which are both nearing the limits of their hotel capacity in peak season, Bourree added. On the other hand, with unemployment down and construction projects up, many workers are escaping the low-paying tourism industry to grab better-paying jobs elsewhere. That, Bourree noted, may ultimately lead to a wage correction in the market.
“The guys in Tofino are beside themselves,” said Bourree. “And in Whistler they’re struggling. I suspect you’ll have strong hotel occupancy and your hotel rates and yield will improve. But you’ll have competition for staff. Tofino and Nanaimo are gonna start stealing your people.”
One of Bourree’s biggest concerns, which he says is shared by Destination BC and Tourism Canada, is the situation with the Canada-U.S. border while Donald Trump is president.
“With a crazy president, we just don’t know what he’s going to do,” Bourree said of Trump. “He thinks terrorists come from Canada.”
But the bottom line is continued growth — both foreign and domestic — in travellers to the region, especially during peak season.
“I think you’re gonna have a record year,” he said. “So, good news.”
— Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Arthur Wong as president of the Parksville Chamber of Commerce.