NANAIMO — As a Nanaimo resident, you are a stakeholder in B.C.’s $15 billion industry — and it’s growing at a record pace here on the Island.
It’s not Amazon...it’s the visitor economy.
1,200 B.C. businesses were recently asked to rank the importance of the province's primary industries over the next five to 10 years. Fifty-two per cent placed tourism at the very top. The industry currently provides 127,000 jobs for over 9,000 businesses in B.C.
BC Ferries saw the biggest passenger increase in 20 years last quarter. Air Canada begins direct flights from Toronto to Nanaimo Airport soon. Accommodation providers are smiling.
Increasingly, people are visiting the Island.
And the money visitors leave behind helps put food directly on the table of a very long list of Nanaimo residents, far beyond the hotels and restaurants. Visitors add significantly to the bottom lines of the same businesses you like to use, helping them to stay in business so they’re here for you too. Their employees have jobs and the higher property taxes businesses pay allow the City to provide all the amenities you enjoy as a resident, the very same amenities that attract visitors.
And that’s the thing. A great place to live is a great place to visit. And a great place to visit is a great place to live. It’s why countries around the world are competing like gladiators to increase their own piece of the visitor economy.
Vancouver Island has what visitors want. The visitor economy is sustainable. It’s labour intensive (jobs, not just low paying jobs!) and compared to many industries, doesn’t drain our resources. Visitors take pictures, create memories, and return home, leaving money — and they tell their friends and families about their amazing trip creating new future visitors. Some even return to live and work here.
Put your hand up if you came to Nanaimo for the first time as a visitor (I’m typing with one hand now…).
Here’s some numbers that may surprise you: Eighty-seven per cent of Central Island visitors stay here 5.4 nights. They spend an average of $528 per day (couple or family) or nearly $3,000 during their visit! Fifty-eight per cent of Central Island visitors said Nanaimo was the main destination for their trip. And 74 per cent of them were repeat visitors.
Is that what you’d always thought? Nanaimo is not just a ‘drive-thru’ town anymore!
Now if you’re not directly involved in tourism, you’re forgiven if you think visitors only clog up our roads, parks, beaches, restaurants, trails and walkways, not to mention your favourite coffee shop, liquour store, gas station, live theatre, pub, outdoor store, the ferries, mall, auto servicing business, as well as the grocery store you like to shop in. To top it off, tourists take up parking places — sometimes even two if they’re pulling a land yacht to sleep in behind a Chevy Subdivision!
But the economic benefits visitors bring to Nanaimo are considerable and positively affect all of us in multiple ways, and we all need to better understand that impact. We in the tourism industry haven’t done a very good job telling our story. And I want to do my small part in changing that. I’m excited to be given the opportunity to report in more depth on the many moving parts of Nanaimo’s growing visitor economy. What visitors like to do, where they go and why, where they spend, what they don’t like, and why so many come back again, sometimes to live.
Opportunity is knocking and we’re all in this together.
Scott Littlejohn is the community engagement and marketing coordinator for Living Forest Oceanside Campground and RV Park. The Littlejohn family has been in the tourism business nearly 40 years, and Scott has also served on the board of Tourism Nanaimo and Tourism Vancouver Island. Celebrating Vancouver Island is his passion and career.