This long weekend could be key for local tourism business operators in attracting a larger share of visitors to the mid-Island this summer.
Blain Sepos, executive director of the Oceanside Tourism Association, said the May long weekend is generally the time when most people really start to make their vacation plans. Pair that with good weather, and he said there’s a better chance of people wanting a quick getaway — and that’s where the Parksville and Qualicum Beach areas can benefit.
This spring, Sepos said the OTA marketed the area in Victoria, Vancouver and other Lower Mainland media, as well as online. Direct response to that campaign is working, he said, generating more phone calls than expected to a dedicated line set up specifically as part of that marketing effort. He added there were also a lot of requests for printed material from potential visitors — again, more than he had expected.
“People are optimistic,” Sepos said of the tourist season so far this year. “They are seeing more people coming in and there are still a lot of last-minute bookings, so it’s still positive.”
The OTA has been focussing a lot in recent years on reaching people who make last-minute travel plans, a trend that seems to be outpacing long-term planning for vacations. Sepos said the OTA, a partnership with local municipalities and businesses, offers specials and last-minute deals on its website, relating to what he calls mini-seasons in the area.
These mini-seasons are short periods within summer, spring, fall and winter, where OTA marketing caters to the patterns of tourists in those times.
“This is where we can use social media to its biggest advantage,” he said, noting it’s a fast way to reach people with travel deals.
To that end, the OTA has a social media specialist, Sharon Sadauskis, who is helping local business owners use the technology to their advantage.
So far this year, these marketing efforts are helping the area’s tourism economy.
According to Sepos, 2011 was the sixth straight year that local accommodation revenue grew, reaching $21.7 million — up 2.5 per cent over 2010 and worth an estimated $109 million in direct, related tourist spending in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
This year so far, has not been as rosy, Sepos admitted, but not altogether gloomy.
Room revenue was down 9.6 per cent in January, but has ben on the rise ever since. February’s room revenue was up 2.8 per cent over the same month in 2011. He added that OTA partners have been telling him that March and April are looking very good — and could break records.
The area’s larger resorts have been doing OK, Sepos said, noting the smaller sites are having more trouble as the economy — especially in the U.S. — remains challenging.
Still, he continued, there is more optimism this year than in the last couple of years among tourism operators here.
The Oceanside Tourism Association has launched a comprehensive research project, mining the thoughts of tourists and local tourism stakeholders on how the region should be branding itself.
The initiative is designed to ensure the area remains current and retains its competitive edge in the market. A team of stakeholders, including local tourism-related businesses, has been created to guide the effort. It will include: reviewing current visitor and resident perceptions; determining the region’s essence and how that can be best communicated, and; creating “a road map for hoe the community can deliver the best possible experience when visitors arrive.”
The effort will see the hiring of a consultant to conduct the research and propose strategies, prior to the creation of a marketing plan for the 2013 tourist season.