The provincial government has announced funding for close to 100 events in BC through the Tourism Events Program. Among the Greater Victoria events to receive grants are the Rifflandia Festival, the Royal Victoria Marathon, Dragon Boat Festival, JazzFest and Symphony Splash.
In April, the province announced $4.8 million for the program, which aims to boost BC's reputation as a destination for major events.
No surprises here, but our region is once again earning praise as a great place to visit and build a life.
This time, the City of Victoria gets the credit as Best Small City in Canada, according to Resonance Consulting. The international firm ranked six categories: place, product, programming, people, prosperity and promotion to determine the top 25 small cities in Canada.
Victoria placed on top for access to post-secondary education and bike lanes (product) as well as for its restaurant scene and activities (programming). The rank is well deserved, of course, though locals know that the city couldn't do it without all of the neighbouring municipalities that make up Greater Victoria. The list did include the District of Saanich, which placed No. 23. Saanich's only real knock seems that it is lesser known then the official capital!
Hopefully being featured in lists such as this will help more people choose to join our community and contribute to our workforce and economy.
Housing remains a drag on the vitality of our region, though overall quality of life in Greater Victoria has improved.
According to the 2022 Vital Signs Report, released this week, Greater Victoria's grade has moved up from a B grade last year to a B+ this year.
Housing earned an F grade this year, a significant drop from a D+ last year.
"Vital Signs is a great check up on our region's economy, and The Chamber was happy to contribute as a community partner this year," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The grades are a good way to illustrate concepts that contribute to our overall quality of life."
It's the 19th edition of the annual report, which uses surveys as well as stories and graphics to provide snapshots of the past year.
This year's theme asked What Does Community Mean To You? Respondents rated the natural environment and climate as the best things about Greater Victoria. The aforementioned Housing crisis and cost of living were the two most important issues, according to the survey.
The report looks at 12 areas, with grades ranging from a B-plus for Learning and Sports and Recreation, to an F for Housing and a C- for Health and Wellness.
After a trying two years, the cruise ship sector made a spectacular comeback in Greater Victoria. The 2022 season was the best yet recorded, with 329 cruise ships stopping at Ogden Point.
The industry was shut down as the pandemic hit. The stoppage even raised questions about whether ships would be back in Victoria, but hard work and effective advocacy by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and The Chamber has paid off.
Next year could be even better. GVHA CEO Ian Robertson told the Times Colonist he's predicting one million cruise ship passengers will visit Victoria in 2023. That would be a leap from the 715,000 arrivals this year, but cruise operators are excited about being back in our region. There are 340 ships already confirmed, Robertson said.
Before this year, the record for most visits was 257 in 2019.
It will be easier for fans of the world's game to gather together, regardless of the time their favourite nations are kicking off on the other side of the planet. The province announced temporary expanded hours for businesses in BC's hospitality sector. The move won't affect liquor sales and service, but bars, pubs and restaurants will be able to serve non-alcoholic beverages during the extended hours.
The FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar begins Nov. 20 and runs until Dec. 19.
Canada makes its first appearance in the global competition since 1986 with a game against Belgium on Nov. 23.
Businesses thrive on certainty. So, knowing the costs of delivery services is a major win for restaurants that have spent the last few years building up their home delivery business.
Early in the pandemic, the provincial government placed a temporary limit on how much food delivery companies can charge. Last week, the province said it was moving to make the change permanent.
“Transforming the temporary delivery fee cap into a permanent model is a game changer for the recovery of our industry and setting restaurants up to be able to thrive in the future,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association in a news release.
The 15% cap on food and 5% cap on additional fees was set to expire at the end of the year.
Saturday marks the end of border restrictions that have been in place for much of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government has confirmed travellers will no longer need to show proof of vaccination or wear masks aboard planes and trains. There will also be no requirement for testing or quarantines.
The ArriveCan app will still be available to submit customs and immigration declarations, but will no longer be mandatory.
"There's a real sense of relief in the tourism industry that their recovery will benefit from making it easier to welcome international travellers," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The restrictions served a purpose but we're at a different place in the pandemic, and a lot of people have been calling for these changes for awhile. Hopefully we can heal some of the divisions that resulted from the times being so uncertain."
The shift also represents a time to reflect on how government responded during the pandemic. Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty was co-chair of the Lessons Learned report that will help policy makers plan for future situations that require restricting access to our border.
As we mark the start of fall, tourism and hospitality businesses can look back on a successful summer.
A return of customers kept many restaurants operating at capacity, though they did face other constraints. A lack of staff and a public sector strike that made stocking liquor a challenge cast a shadow on a season that many businesses rely on to make it through slower seasons.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association told CHEK News that many Victoria restaurants operated with 80% of their staff.
The accommodation sector also enjoyed strong season. The latest Victoria Tourism Bulletin from Chemistry Consulting reports that occupancy rates in July were up from 2021 and close to 2018 levels. The average rate for a room was $305 in July, up from $230 in July 2021 and $250 in July 2019.
BC Ferries also reported a return to pre-pandemic levels in vehicles, though there were fewer passengers and buses onboard in July.
The Victoria International Airport welcomed 162,000 passengers, which is getting closer to the 185,000 in July 2019. And the Victoria Conference Centre saw a big increase this year with 8,211 delegate days in July compared to 3,633 in July 2019.
The Chamber applauds the provincial government's initiative to seek public input on plans to rejuvenate Belleville Terminal.
The facility in the Inner Harbour has served as a gateway for international visitors arriving by water since 1924. As a champion of our region's tourism industry, The Chamber has consistently advocated for the terminal and the need to modernize it with the times.
"We've been calling for renovations for decades, and it's taken time to get all levels of government onboard," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Now that we've done that, there's no time to lose. The requirements to be a border crossing have changed and there's a real risk we could lose our port of entry."
More than 680,000 passengers travelled through Belleville Terminal in 2019 and spent about $174 million in Greater Victoria, says the province's project plan.
Belleville Terminal generates 220,000 overnight visitors and sells over 16,000 vacation packages annually to their passengers, all of which are provided by local businesses in Victoria.
The province is developing a business case for the project. It's expected to cost up to $290 million and be completed by fall 2027.
A temporary terminal will be built until a new facility is ready.
Staying active is key to a long and healthy life, and this week Greater Victoria welcomes 2,500 older athletes competing in the 55+ BC Games. It's the first time the multi-sport event has been held in the region.
The Games kicked off on Sept. 13 and run until Sept. 17. The annual competition features 22 sports and activities at facilities in the City of Victoria, District of Saanich, City of Langford, District of Oak Bay and Township of Esquimalt.
Age categories range up to 100+ for some Track and Field events. Athletes come from 12 Zones across the province, and a special party is planned for tomorrow. The Thursday Night on the Town festival will feature music, First Nations cultural performances and activities from 5 to 8 pm on Government Street between Humboldt and View streets.
The 55+ BC Games are the largest annual multi-sport event in the province, and the first to be held in Greater Victoria since the North American Indigenous Games in 1997.
People in BC's hospitality industry could be forgiven for stopping to say "cheers" yesterday (Aug. 30), as word spread that government workers were standing down from job action that had threatened vital supply chains.
"The Chamber applauds this decision to let workers stay working in our restaurants, craft breweries and all businesses that depend on the government for access to goods," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Last week, The Chamber was part of a coalition calling for a quick end to this strike and we're happy our voice has been heard."
BC's hospitality and tourism sector brings in more than $22.3 billion in annual revenue. The strike, which began Aug. 15, was affecting the viability of many people whose livelihoods depend on the accommodation, liquor and cannabis retail industries.
The Liquor Distribution Branch Wholesale Operations division has posted an update on plans to meet outstanding orders and get the service back to speed.
People in Greater Victoria could soon have access to the ride-sharing brand that is ubiquitous in most of the rest of the world.
Uber Canada announced today that it has asked the province's Passenger Transportation Board to allow the company to operate in Greater Victoria and Kelowna. Uber was rejected by the board last year, which was concerned about allowing competition affecting business hurt by pandemic restrictions. However, the new request is for a transfer of licence from a company that was already approved by the board but is not operational.
The Chamber supports Uber's efforts as the company is a recognized global leader in the provision of ridesharing. Their international experience would be a welcome addition to Greater Victoria, particularly as international visitors return to our destination.
Greater Victoria's tourism sector continues to bounce back. Statistics are tracking ahead of last year and even 2019 in some categories. Chemistry Consulting's latest Tourism Bulletin shows the rate of an average hotel room in June was higher than the same month in 2019. Hotel occupancy was 77.85%, compared to 38.22% last year and 83.79% in 2019.
A new hotel has been proposed at the Victoria International Airport.
“We see the addition of a hotel at this location as a logical fit and a great new amenity for the airport and community,” Victoria Airport Authority’s President and CEO Geoff Dickson said in a news release. “It is an opportunity for Victoria International Airport to further diversify its revenue base which has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic.”
The proposal is for a 129-room New TownePlace Suites by Marriott.
Construction is expected to begin in 2023 and the hotel will include a restaurant, meeting space, pool and gym.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is preparing to welcome the nine millionth passenger to the Victoria Cruise Ship Terminal at Ogden Point. The lucky passenger arrives Friday afternoon.
"Many businesses in Greater Victoria provide services for cruise ships and their passengers, and welcoming the ninth million unique visitor shows how much the work of these businesses has made our region appealing to travellers," Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams said. "As travel opens up around the world, we are proud to see Greater Victoria has earned its place as a preferred destination for cruise ships."
The ten millionth cruise ship passenger is expected in Victoria by 2024.
Changes are coming to one of downtown Victoria's most celebrated boulevards. The City of Victoria has been working on a redesign of Government Street, which has retained much of its streetscape for 50 years.
Last week, Victoria's Committee of the Whole set a date to vote on approving the redesign for July 28. The Chamber worked with members and partner organizations to provide input on the proposal.
"Government Street is an attraction for residents from around our region and visitors to our destination," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Investing in a refresh helps build economic resilience, but we'd like to see the businesses that have made Government Street so attractive steer this project to make sure it has the best chance of success."
BC Ferries is offering advice to help travellers navigate the unique challenges of a weekend book ended by national holidays in Canada and the US.
Expect heavy traffic, book early and be patient are a few of the suggestions. Other tips include planning to travel mid-weekend to avoid the heaviest traffic and planning ahead to beat the heat while waiting for your ship to arrive.
A surge in the supply of goods from overseas over the next few months could see retailers offering discounts if they suddenly need to balance inventory with demand.
North American ports have faced major disruptions over the past few years, with BC's main port in Vancouver ranked among the most inefficient in the world in 2021. The only ports that fared worse in the Container Port Performance Index were on the US West Coast.
The uncertainty caused by the pandemic and volatile trade conditions has made it more difficult to manage the arrival of goods from overseas. The situation is improving but it will take time for supply chain networks to return to previous efficiencies. This might be good news for consumers and help reduce inflationary pressure but will mean many businesses need to remain nimble and adjust their overseas purchases.
It's also a reminder of the importance of supporting local producers who are less affected by shipping disruptions. As well, the proposal to improve the deep sea port facility at Port Alberni represents a tremendous opportunity for the Island and the entire province.
BC Premier John Horgan has admitted the province failed to properly explain plans to replace the Royal BC Museum, and has put the project on hold.
“I always try to act in the best interests of British Columbians,” Horgan said in a news release. “That involves listening. That also means taking responsibility when you make the wrong call.”
The museum is no longer scheduled to close this fall, and a new round of public consultation will begin to hear what British Columbians want to do with the institution.
"Kudos to the province for hearing what we, and many others, told them we didn't like about the initial announcement," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The Royal BC Museum is a pillar of Greater Victoria's tourism industry so, first and foremost, we need it to stay in our region. The museum is deeply connected to our economy and benefits many of our members. What we want to see is the province make an investment in this asset that drives visitation, excites the intellect and creates revenue for our region and the province."
The Chamber also fully supports a more inclusive narrative about our province that shares the story of Indigenous people as well as all of the diverse communities that make up the fabric of who we are today.
Construction continues on a new Collections and Research Building in Colwood. It will house museum artifacts once completed.
Starting June 20, travellers will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination when boarding a plane or train in Canada. Federally regulated workers will also no longer need to reveal their vaccination status.
The federal government has opted to suspend the requirements, which could be reinstated if the COVID-19 situation changes.
The change does not affect the steps that need to be taken by Canadians returning from international travel. As well, travelling to other countries requires following their entry rules, including proof of vaccination to enter the US.
Federal vaccine mandates for travel were put in place on Oct. 30, 2021.
Meanwhile, long lineups continue at Service Canada centres caused by people seeking to renew their passport. An additional 600 workers were hired this month to help alleviate the backlog as passport applications jumped.
The federal government expects as many as 4.3 million applications over the next two years. Almost 1.3 million passports applications were processed between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. That compares to 363,000 the previous year.
Tourism businesses are back in a big way, as pent-up demand has operators planning for a boom this summer season.
According to Chemistry Consulting, BC Ferries recorded massive increases in the number of vehicles, passengers and buses between April 2022 and April 2021.
Greater Victoria hotels are also reporting hotel vacancy and room rates that are back to or surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
"It's heartening to see our tourism members getting back on their feet after enduring exceptionally challenging circumstances during the pandemic," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We'll be continuing to work with our community partners to encourage local support for tourism and hospitality business throughout the summer."
After the initial announcement of plans to replace the Royal BC Museum created a storm of controversy, the provincial government tried again to explain their rationale with the release of the final business case today.
"If we had seen the business case when the original announcement was made, it might have helped with some of the sticker shock our members are feeling," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We're going to keep working with our members to help those that can pick up some of the traffic, as well as with the museum and the province to try and mitigate the loss of a major attraction for eight years."
The province said it's not possible to keep the museum open while rebuilding because of the complexity of moving items and safely removing hazardous materials. The current building has outlived its useful life and there are potential risks to its stored collections as well as staff and visitors.
There is a cost to doing nothing, Minister for Tourism, Art, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark said at today's technical briefing. The province estimates that the cost of the project — currently at $789 million — will increase the longer it is delayed.
Greater Victoria's business community is showing its resilience as a new report shows commerce continues to strengthen and grow.
“Despite headwinds facing the global economy, our region has roared back and we’re in a good position to really take flight as we welcome our traditional tourism season,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. “These indicators make it clear that people can’t wait to get back to our vibrant downtown and enjoy all the amazing experiences our businesses provide.”
The report shows that there were 314,730 more pedestrian trips to downtown Victoria in the first three months of 2022 than the same period last year. The City of Victoria issued 7,623 business licences in the first quarter of 2022, up from 7,187 in the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
The Victoria International Marina was abuzz with stories of intrepid adventure and precision planning as it hosted the largest gathering of Nordhavn yachts to date. The Nordhavn Owners Rendezvous was held at the marina last week as participants prepared to explore BC's coast. Among the vessels was the Motoryacht LARS, which holds a submarine capable of handling arctic exploration and scientific research.
"The gathering is a sign that things are getting back to pre-pandemic levels right now," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist.
The provincial government appears committed to its plan to rebuild the Royal BC Museum over the next eight years at a cost of $789 million. The museum was founded in 1886 and has been in its current location since 1968.
The Chamber will work to support businesses affected by the change, including attractions that now have an opportunity to increase their profile.
“You can come downtown and go to the Bateman Gallery, you can go to the Bug Zoo, you can go to the Maritime Museum — there are still a lot of attractions around and plenty of things to do,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told CHEK News.
“The work to modernize the Royal BC Museum is a legacy project that will enrich, inspire and continue to benefit British Columbians and Indigenous Peoples for generations to come," RBCM CEO Alicia Dubois said in the provincial news release.
There are plans for travelling exhibitions, regional displays and an interactive walking tour in Victoria while the new museum is being built.