Tourism season kicks into gear

Almost half way into May we have come to accept that spring cannot find us this year — but let us hope that potential visitors can.

BC’s tourism industry generated $13 billion dollars in 2010, up 4.5 per cent from 2009, but those figures don’t accurately reflect what happened in our region where visitor numbers were down again. More likely, last year’s uptick for BC was generated by the 2010 Olympics.

This year may be different for the Saanich Peninsula. By all accounts, visitor numbers are expected to rise — and we are ready.

Dave Cowen, chair of the Peninsula Chamber’s tourism committee, and general manager of The Butchart Gardens, is spearheading some exciting projects. Funding for those projects is coming directly from Peninsula tourism businesses.

Preliminary research has been completed on the viability of a Peninsula trolley that would transport visitors and locals from one attraction to another, across the Peninsula. A branding process is in its final stages: a new brand for the Saanich Peninsula will be launched in the next few weeks. A business plan for the chamber’s three visitor centres is in a draft stage. A Passport to the Peninsula offering price breaks on a number of Peninsula attractions and accommodations will be launched at Rendez-vous, Canada’s premier international tourism marketplace. The passports will be available for sale to visitors and residents by the end of May.

The committee is also taking a fresh look at visitor services for the Peninsula, including promoting the concept of our region as a gateway to the Island. Visitor services are an important economic driver here, as they are everywhere. Tourism counselors support not only attractions, accommodations and restaurants, but drive business to an astounding cross-section of Peninsula business, including retail, groceries, transportation, finance, real estate, gas bars and more. A sharp, modern looking visitor centre at the Pat Bay site would offer additional economic opportunities, both for the centre, which generates revenue through its reservations service, and to the business community. Architect Art Finlayson’s plan for a new building is ready and waiting for funding.

On the practical side, this year, for the first time, we can offer public washroom facilities at the Pat Bay visitor centre.

After a successful trial period in 2010, the Town of Sidney and the Peninsula Chamber have signed an agreement that allows the chamber to operate Sidney’s Beacon Avenue visitor centre through 2015.

Sidney’s Ocean Avenue and Fifth Street intersection is getting a traffic circle. The visitor centre on that corner will be closed (and later moved further into Iroquois Park) for most of the 2011 tourism season but arrangements have been made to offer visitor services out of the Sidney International Ferry Terminal.

Eileen Leddy is executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at eleddy@peninsulachamber.ca.