British Columbia·In Depth

High U.S. dollar, strong economy means hot spring for tourism in B.C.

In B.C.'s tourism-dependent communities, business owners say its like "August in April," when it comes to full hotels, packed restaurants and popular sightseeing excursions.

Tourism sector could be on pace for record year in Victoria

Low loonie draws tourists

The National

6 years ago
2:37
Chris Brown on why more Americans are visiting and more Canadians are staying home 2:37
In B.C.'s tourism-dependent communities, business owners say it's like "August in April," when it comes to full hotel rooms, packed restaurants and popular sightseeing excursions.

In Victoria, in particular, the tourism industry may be on pace for a record year.

Outside Red Fish Blue Fish restaurant on the Inner Harbour, owner Simon Sobolewski says the long lineups at his recycled shipping container-turned fish and chip stand have been challenging for staff.

"Summer business in April is very unusual. We're not used to it," Sobolewski said. "We have to up the intensity of what's going on. More staff, more supplies. It's been a bit of a scramble."

A strong U.S. dollar and improved consumer confidence appears to be playing a big role in bringing more Americans to Victoria. (Marc Trudeau/CBC)

The nice weather has been a huge plus, but Sobolewski believes the biggest difference this year is the lower value of the Canadian dollar and the impact it's had on American visitors.

"You can kind of hear where they're from," he said.

"We do hear a lot of [American] twang, and so, yes, we're seeing an increase in our American tourists prior to their usual time of coming in and I can only relate that to a change in the dollar."

Hotels get big boost from American bookings

At Abigail's Hotel, a 23-room upscale bed and breakfast in a restored Tudor mansion, marketing manager Allison Fairhurst says occupancy is running higher than usual for visitors from the U.S.

"Currently, for reservations for the summer its about 70 per cent Americans, and 55 per cent has been the historical average," Fairhurst said. 

"Its fantastic!"

Restaurants like Red Fish Blue Fish in Victoria say they're seeing summer business in April. (Marc Trudeau/CBC)

Tourism Victoria's Paul Nursey says the low Canadian dollar is obviously a draw for U.S. visitors, but he cautions many actually aren't even aware of how far their dollar will go until they arrive here.

"We're really excited to see the recovery of the U.S. economy," said Nursey. "So we think this is a sustainable growth, not tied to the ups and downs of the dollar."

"Having a low Canadian dollar is a benefit," he added. "[Americans] get more confident and they spend more money."

U.S. economy likely driving growth in tourism

Fishing guide Gord Martin of Foghorn Charters says he's also looking forward to a strong summer, but like Nursey, he suggests the strength of the U.S. economy is a bigger factor than the dollar.

"The biggest trend is employment," Martin said. "It's whether everyone is working. It doesn't matter what province or what country. If people are working, they spend money."
Tourism Victoria thinks the higher number of American visitors is related to consumer confidence in the U.S. (Marc Trudeau/CBC)

Martin, who's been finding early success with halibut this spring, operates out of the West Bay Marina in Victoria's Inner Harbour. 

He says his Canadian customer base is also strong, perhaps because many repeat clients from B.C. and out east are choosing Canadian holidays this summer.

"[The low Canadian dollar] is a deterrent definitely for Canadians to go south," said Martin.

"The Alberta market has been good and I think it still will be good. Even with the price of oil on the decline. They've had a lot of good years."

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