The end of Flower Count is a good sign that patio season is right around the corner. Last week, the hard work of business and industry associations was rewarded when the provincial government announced it was giving businesses more time to make outdoor seating permanent. The deadline has been extended to Dec. 31, 2024.
During the early days of the pandemic, many restaurants, pubs, bars and breweries found innovative solutions to create safe spaces for customers. These outdoor areas were well received by the public and helped economic activity thrive. To support the efforts of business, the province provided temporary expanded service area (TESA) authorizations to thousands of liquor-licensed businesses.
“Many licensees have not applied to make their TESA permanent due to the stress and pressure as a result of the effects of the pandemic and the unprecedented labour shortage," BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association president and CEO Ian Tostenson said. "We would like to thank government for being conscious of this and providing the much-needed extension.”
Meanwhile, the CIty of Victoria will have to decide tomorrow, March 16, how it will proceed with its new Patio Regulation Bylaw. The bylaw updates the emergency measures implemented during the pandemic to provide more municipal oversight. City staff have been engaging with businesses and neighbourhood groups to develop its rules before the provincial TESA program was originally supposed to end. Now that an extension has been granted, the City should have more time to ensure its changes are workable for businesses.
The Pacific Ocean wields immense influence over the weather, regulating Greater Victoria’s famous mild climate and warming the air deep into Central Canada. It’s why our region is typically the first in the country to experience the signs of spring. The phenomenon gave rise 48 years ago to a tradition that continues to this day.
The 2023 Greater Victoria Flower Count — which officially begins today — kicked off on Monday with speeches on the immaculate front lawns of the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Flower Count only lasts one week: March 8 - 15, so we invite you to get involved!
Count your blooms to make sure your municipality becomes this year's Best Bloomin' Community, and enter our social media contest and #humblebrag with a pic of local flowers. You may even win Afternoon Tea for two at the Fairmont Empress! See below for more information.
The event was well attended by local media. You can read their coverage here:
Camosun College announced last week it has selected a company to be pre-qualified to design, build and fund a film studio with education components.
The Visionary Group of Toronto will now enter into discussions with Camosun to determine the scope, timelines and cost for the project.
In 2021, the province gave Camosun $150,000 to explore educational opportunities for students in the BC film industry and the potential development of an on-campus film studio. The project has been touted for land at Camosun's Interurban Campus in the District of Saanich.
The Chamber takes its role as the voice of business seriously. When our members ask us to speak up on their behalf, we listen.
The power of that unified voice was on display last week as Chamber CEO Bruce Williams collaborated with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Destination Greater Victoria, the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria and the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association to call on the province to keep government jobs in Greater Victoria.
A letter sent to the Deputy Minister to the Premier, Shannon Salter, expressed the concerns of Greater Victoria's business community about a directive taking effect April 1. The BC Public Service, like almost every employer, is struggling to find and keep staff. A proposal to hire workers who would report to offices in other BC communities and connect with co-workers virtually was being touted as a modern solution.
The Chamber celebrates change — specifically those "pivot pilots" who quickly found new ways of serving customers and showed the way forward during the pandemic. However, we also can't stand by and watch good jobs be removed from regional economy — particularly our regional downtown that drives a significant share of that economy.
Public sector workers are protected from recessionary pressures that face most private sector workers. Having that as a foundation is one of the keys to allowing a relatively small city like Victoria develop an internationally envied tourist economy and high tech sector.
"The Deputy Minister wrote back to us four days later to reassure Chamber members that government has heard our concerns," Williams said. "All we want is government to consider the impact of any directive on business before the harm is done."
After hosting The Chamber's 160th celebration, the Royal BC Museum continues its work reinventing itself for the future. The Victoria landmark has long been an important anchor for tourism business that cater to the visitors attracted to our destination. The museum lobby is currently hosting the 17th annual Mammoth Sale, featuring props from former exhibits as well as merchandise from the gift store.
On Monday morning, the museum was the site of an inspirational moment as members of the Nuxalk people were on hand to receive a totem pole that was taken from its home near Bella Coola in 1912. The pole will make its way back to Nuxalk territory.
"The museum is part of the fabric of Greater Victoria and many people feel strongly about what they want to see happen," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "I'm fully confident in the work that museum staff are doing to modernize their facility, and The Chamber is excited about helping to ensure the museum continues to serve its important role in our region for generations to come."
Cruise ship season is tentatively set to begin April 11 with the arrival of 2,600 passengers aboard the Sapphire Princess. The year is shaping up well as the industry appears to have fully bounced back after the pandemic.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority anticipates 330 ship calls at the Victoria Cruise Terminal between April and October, with about 850,000 cruise passengers getting a taste of our destination. According to a survey, 53% of people who stopped in Victoria aboard a cruise ship said they would be back for another visit within five years.
“GVHA is focused on sustainable growth that benefits the region. We understand that, along with many economic benefits to the community, cruise also presents some challenges. We want to make sure we address those challenges,” GVHA CEO Ian Robertson said in a news release. “Shore power is top priority, and we continue to work with the federal government to get that funding piece in place. It’s a modest investment to realize huge potential and impact, and time to finalize the funding and move this ahead.”
The Royal BC Museum is a major attraction in Greater Victoria that has been important to our region since its inception in 1886. The current building has been in place since 1968. Last year, plans to redevelop the site were stopped after a much publicized outcry. Since then, the RBCM has been rethinking its future.
A series of public engagement opportunities continues tomorrow with Dialogue Sessions in the afternoon and evening at the museum.
"This is a chance to make sure we do it right. That the museum tells the many stories that reflect all of us who live here," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We can do much better at providing opportunities for First Nations to share their stories in their words. I encourage all chamber members to participate in the engagement process and show your support for keeping the museum in Greater Victoria."
A plan for the Bateman Foundation Gallery and the Maritime Museum of BC to swap spaces makes sense for both organizations. The idea is for the Bateman Gallery to set up a temporary exhibition space at 744 Douglas St., where the Maritime Museum currently resides.
The board chair of the Bateman Foundation, David Schneider, said the move will allow their organization to "re-imagine how we can connect people to nature through the power of art in a community-focused interactive space.
It would also achieve a major goal of the Maritime Museum, which has had its eye on setting up in the CPR Steamship building.
“We do want to get a toehold in the building,” Maritime Museum chair Jamie Webb told the Times Colonist. Webb added that he's hopeful BC's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which manages the Steamship Building, will agree to the plan and provide a "favourable lease" that lets the museum establish itself in the new location. Webb received good news yesterday when the estate of Cora Shaw donated $1 million to help secure the museum's long-term viability.
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.
Victoria voted Canada’s Top Small City
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.