Visitors to the Peninsula down this year

As the shoulder season begins, stats show a downward trend continues.

Visits to the local tourism information offices on the Saanich Peninsula are down this season, following a general trend over the last few years.

Saanich Peninsula Visitor Information Centre manager Carol Whitehouse says visits are down between eight and 10 per cent this year over 2011, to both the Pat Bay Highway and Sidney offices.

“Last year, there was the shadow of the (Vancouver) Olympics, so things were up,” she said.

Up to the week of Sept. 17, 2012, the Pat Bay centre saw 15,521 visitors, compared with 18,280 in the same time period in 2011.

In the Sidney office, 7,474 people dropped in, compared with 8,993 last year. The numbers here from 2011 include visits at the Anacortes ferry terminal (walk off passengers).

The last few years have been a bit of a roller coaster ride — plenty of ups and downs — in visitor numbers in the Peninsula region. Whitehouse said this is following the general trend of declining numbers in tourism over the last few years, as well as the increased use of technology.

GPS devices, the Internet and social media sites are all taking some traffic away from tourist information centres.

Yet, Whitehouse pointed out, the Vancouver Island-based centres still get their share of people coming in, faced with limits on the technology they do have.

For example, she continued, people have told her their GPS systems don’t show parts of Sidney, so they drop in, seeking directions.

Taking advantage of new technology and social media is a priority for the info. centres, said Whitehouse. They use the Internet, Facebook and Twitter to better reach their customers.

In a recent survey of visitors, done through a voluntary mail-in program, Whitehouse said 40 to 50 per cent of all visitors are looking for maps and directions. Similar numbers of people are seeking reservations.

The shoulder season is just beginning, Whitehouse said, noting June, July and August is the main tourist time.

With a corresponding drop in visitors, the Pat Bay visitor centre closed on the weekend.

The downtown Sidney office stays open year-round, with additional services provided at the Sidney International Ferry Terminal (Anacortes Ferry) when the ship is in.

To learn more about the visitor information centres, which are run by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, call 250-665-7362 or visit www.peninsulachamber.ca.