Few, if any, travelers coming off of the Anacortes Ferry from Washington State are making the turn into Sidney and a new business lobby group says that’s costing local merchants a significant amount of money.
In the words of the group’s spokesperson, Denis Paquette, Sidney is missing the boat.
Paquette, owner of the Sidney Waterfront Inn and Suites, said he has teamed up with the ownership of the Beacon Inn, Best Western and Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa to form the Sidney Traffic Improvement Group (STIG). They have also recruited specialists in traffic and town planning to help gather information and make solid recommendations on how to drive more tourists into the downtown core.
Paquette was behind an earlier attempt to erect a flagpole at the Sidney Anacortes Ferry terminal to help welcome travellers to the community. He said the first step in attracting people, is to at least welcome them. Then, he added, the community has to intercept them before they head to Victoria or other destinations.
“If they don’t see Sidney, they’ve really missed the boat,” he said. “Sidney is a destination all of its own.”
The group, Paquette continued, hopes to bring in more stakeholders in tourism and will get as many merchants on board as possible. He said it’s not just about the local hotel owners, but about how a few extra visitors can help the local tourism economy.
In rough numbers, Paquette said there are 200 vehicles coming off of the Anacortes Ferry per trip. If Sidney attracts five per cent of those (10 cars) and they stay on Beacon Avenue overnight at $100, that’s $1,000 a day added to local coffers. Over 30 days, he continued, it jumps to $30,000 and so on — and then there’s the trickle-down effect of when people stay longer, they tend to spend more elsewhere.
He said as it is today, most, if not all of the vehicles from the ferry are turning left at Fifth Street and heading south.
Paquette admitted he wants to bring back his idea for a welcome sign and flagpole at the ferry terminal, an idea that was rejected by town council in 2010. That plan, he added, depends on what the rest of the group and merchant stakeholders want.
That’s the same with the idea of returning, after more than 10 years, Beacon Avenue to two-way traffic. Paquette said if the community intercepts visitors, they shouldn’t be getting lost. As well, he said two-way traffic slows down vehicles and people can take the time to see what Sidney has to offer.
The group’s first step, he continued, is to gather information on visitors, traffic and more. Then they want to reach out to local merchants for support and work on a plan. The last step would be to lobby town hall to hear and consider their suggestions.
“We hope that the town would deal with this now, not by the next election,” said Paquette. “If we can get Anacortes Ferry traffic to stop in Sidney, everybody will understand.”
Paquette added STIG hopes to have a website up soon and will be working to get information out to the community.
Anacortes Ferry walk-offs do see Sidney
Between May and July, 2012, 773 people who walked off the Anacortes Ferry into Sidney stopped in at the tourist information booth the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce operates there during the season.
Another 596 were counted in August, says Visitor Services manager Carol Whitehouse. Most, however, arrive looking to visit either the Butchart Gardens or Victoria. The only time they spend in Sidney that Whitehouse can account for, is at the Fifth Street bus stop.
“Walk-offs generally come for a day and most have a plan,” she said. “They often come without knowing how to get there and not a lot of them are here overnight.”
Should they require Canadian money, Whitehouse said their staff directs them to banks and shops in downtown Sidney. Otherwise, most wait for the bus into Victoria or the Gardens on Fifth Street.
Others do make it deeper into the Peninsula. Whitehouse noted that from April to September of this year, 330 parties (two or more people) were served at the Beacon Avenue visitor information centre. Most are, however, still looking for Victoria or Butchart Gardens.
“We do encourage everybody to come back and see more of the area.”
Washington State Ferries’ statistics from 2011 show there were 45,148 foot passengers on the Anacortes to Sidney run. That was up 8.4 per cent over 2010.
Another 28,380 were passengers in 41,310 vehicles (driver included).