Parksville saw a big spike in the number of vacationers visiting the area between 2014 and 2015. Thanks to a prominent online trip planner, that number could continue to climb in the near future.
TripAdvisor.com has highlighted Parksville as one of its “Eight Canadian vacations ready for the spotlight in 2016.” The listing was posted on Trip Advisor’s vacation rentals blog on Oct. 20.
“I’m impressed we’re going to get this kind of attention,” said Kim Burden, executive director of the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Centre. “Trip Advisor is a pretty significant travel planning tool.”
The Trip Advisor blog is aimed at a U.S. audience and provides suggested destinations “north of the border.” While extolling the virtues of Montreal, Toronto, Whistler and Prince Edward Island, its blog warned that travellers to those locations better prepare for lots of other tourists — and a surge in hotel prices.
Parksville topped its list of destinations that offer the same activities, recreation and accommodation, “but aren’t discovered by the masses … yet.”
Six of the eight communities listed are on Vancouver Island or the B.C. Coast, including Courtenay, Sooke, Halfmoon Bay, Ucluelet and Salt Spring Island.
“The way these things work, somebody’s been here,” said Burden. “Obviously somebody stayed in Parksville, they stayed in Ucluelet, in Sooke and Salt Spring Island, and was impressed. Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism works hard to attract travel writers to the community, and they can share it with their audience.”
The Trip Advisor Vacation Rentals Blog, which focuses specifically on the rental aspect of travel, stated that it analyzed interest in rental listings across all Canadian destinations on its main travel planning website and selected those that saw the greatest increase between 2014 and 2015.
And Parksville came in at No. 1 in Canada, with a 58 per cent spike in vacation rental interest by Trip Advisor’s online travellers. It was just ahead of Crystal Beach, in Fort Erie, Ont., at 57 per cent.
In order to qualify for the list, a destination had to have a minimum of 1,000 views and at least 20 available properties, the Trip Advisor blog said.
No problem in Parksville, with a Resort Row nearly as well-known as its sweeping beachfront. In addition, the Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) website, which lists houses, cottages and condominiums available for short- and medium-term rentals, had more than 170 such properties listed this week in Parksville and the surrounding area between Nanoose Bay and Fanny Bay.
Even though the Trip Advisor blog is focussed on vacation rentals, Burden points out that is simply a jumping-off point for the economic boost from tourism.
“It’s all a matter of bringing dollars into the community,” he said. “It’s not only what’s spent on lodging, but those visitors are spending money throughout the community, at restaurants, galleries and local attractions. That money gets spread around.”
And while the Trip Advisor blog based its “Eight Canadian vacations” on users’ interest in vacation rentals by region, it did highlight attractions like Rathtrevor Beach, Little Qualicum Falls, Paradise Fun Park and Paradise Mini-golf. And Burden added that online interest in rentals has translated into actual, documented visits over the past year.
“I’ve spoken to resort and restaurant operators and they’re saying business is up 20 per cent. That’s a huge swing,” he said. “We didn’t see quite as big a swing at the Visitors’ Centre, but we were still up about eight per cent.”
Much of that boost comes from two specific regions — the United States and Eastern Canada, according to Burden. Trip Advisor stated “Americans are starting to catch on” to Parksville, which has long been a family friendly getaway even for fellow Vancouver Islanders, and added a Canadian-U.S. monetary exchange rate that’s the most favourable it’s been in years is helping to drive that traffic.
“(Trip Advisor) hit the nail on the head for the reason people visit here: weather, and the Canadian dollar,” he said, adding the exchange rate is boosting Canadian visits almost as much as those from the States.
“Last winter, from January through March (2015) our numbers at the Visitors’ Centre were up 25 per cent over what they were the year before for people coming from Eastern Canada. Their option was, ‘Well, we could go to Florida but, by gosh, our dollar’s worth only 75 cents. Let’s go to the West Coast.’
“We’re getting a lot of visits in that context. It’s a combination of Americans coming up here because they can get more for their dollar and Canadians coming because they don’t have to take a hit to their dollar. And we’ve got a great product.”
Following the economic downturn of 2008 and several years of a strong Canadian dollar, British Columbia saw a stark drop-off in the number of visitors from the United States, according to numbers from Destination B.C. For the month of September, for example, U.S. visitors entering B.C. for overnight stays dropped from 340,581 in 2007 to 275,692 the following year.
Those numbers had remained in the general vicinity of 275-280,000 annually until this year, when they suddenly rebounded to 317,880.
The U.S. cross-border results are not broken down by region, but Burden said Parksville has the “X” factor that should make the current boost in visitors more than a simple one-year trend.
“The mandate of Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism is to get ’em here, and the mandate of the Parksville Chamber and Visitors’ Centre is to keep them here,” he said. “To do that you need to have accommodations, but also have nice people providing an excellent experience. It’s not about going to see Goats on the Roof. It’s about going to look at Goats on the Roof and getting excited and having a fun time doing it.”
“If everyone is polite, if all our partners in the community are working toward the same goal, we’re all going to benefit.”