Peninsula tourist numbers good, but flat

Tourism stakeholders need coordinated effort to pull people off the highway and into the Peninsula

By Tim Collins/Contributor

Although the numbers were stable for the 2013 tourist season, Sidney has considerable room for improvement in order to fully realize its potential as a tourist destination, according to Oleene Herman, the executive director of the Sidney Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA).

“In some ways, we’re Vancouver Island’s best kept secret,” said Herman. “People come off the ferries and out of the airport and they are pretty much right here, yet they keep on going. We have to get them off the highway.”

That’s a view that’s shared by Carol Whitehouse, the manager of the Peninsula’s two visitor centres.

The centres, operated by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce have shown a net decline in attendance over the past several years.

“I think that there are a number of reasons for that modest decline,” said Whitehouse. “The United States hasn’t fully recovered from its economic problems of 2008 and other factors like the strength of the Canadian dollar all play into tourism numbers.”

Whitehouse pointed out that visitors getting off the ferries and leaving the airport are often unaware of the rich diversity of attractions on the Peninsula in general.

“We need to get a lot better at destination marketing for places like Sidney,” she said. “Simple things like highway signage could be improved to inform visitors about what we have to offer.”

Chris Fudge, the executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

“There are a number of things we can do a lot better,” said Fudge. “We have to examine how we brand our attractions within the Greater Victoria market. We need to examine how we deal with visitors; how we get them to stay longer; and how we get them to come back.”

Fudge said he feels that a coordinated effort of the various tourism stakeholders on the Peninsula will help to make a unified destination marketing strategy possible.

It’s exactly that sort of coordinated action that Sidney’s Business Improvement Area has been working on over the past several months, said the organization’s chairperson Cliff McNeil-Smith.

“We recognize that we need to communicate with potential visitors long before they get here. Sure, we have video boards at the airport and rack cards on the ferries, but we’ve also put in place some 20 other initiatives, like mobile apps and an amazing web site that promotes the area,” said McNeil-Smith.

“We have to be able to connect with people, not only on the ferries and at the airport, but while they’re sitting in their living rooms back home, thinking about where they’re going to go.”

The BIA has also been working with Sidney’s municipal council to establish an events coordinator position.

“That person will be in a position to help all the events and organizations cooperate — to work together,” said McNeil-Smith. “It’s a way of working together to get the biggest impact from all of the great events that Sidney has to offer.”

And it’s not just about getting visitors to the Island to stop in Sidney, said Herman.

“Sure, we want to market ourselves in Vancouver, Seattle and Calgary,” she said, “but a primary market for us has to be the rest of the CRD.

“We have this tremendous asset here and we all believe that we should be doing better than we are.

“We have to let people on the Island know what’s happening and why they should come to visit.”

To that end, the BIA has dedicated $250,000 annually to promote Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula as a destination for Islanders and visitors alike.