British Columbia

Hoteliers bet on a bright future for Prince George, B.C.

A trio of new hotels are under construction in downtown Prince George, with more being built along highways leading in to town. The investments are part of the city's growing bid to be a business and conference centre for the province.

City hopes to tap into growing conference market

A new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel being built in downtown Prince George plans to grow the city's business and conference market. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Ron Mundi is betting big on downtown Prince George, B.C., investing millions in a pair of hotels — one new, one refurbished — just a few blocks apart in the city's downtown core.

While Mundi said he thinks Prince George is a "great community," his decision is based on numbers rather than feelings. He says industry reports indicate the city needs many more places for overnight visitors to stay.

"Occupancy is really growing," he said. "Over the last few years we see a growing economy, so that's where our attention is."

Mundi isn't alone. Within a few months, another high-profile hotel will open in the downtown core, while two more are being built along highways leading in to the city.

All are hoping to tap into the city's growing conference sector.

Business-based tourism

The strategy to go after business customers has been a central part of Tourism PG's strategy since 2015 when the city hosted the Canada Winter Games.

Since then, the organization has made attracting conferences and hosting sporting events one of its key strategies. 

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead speaks at the Natural Resources Forum in Prince George in January 2018. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Located near the geographical centre of B.C., Prince George benefits from the growth of resource industries in both the province's northwest and northeast, as well as in Alberta, says the head of Tourism PG, Erika Hummel.

 A key example is the annual B.C. Natural Resources Forum hosted in the city. The 15th edition held in January 2018 set a new record for attendance with over 900 delegates including federal ministers, municipal and First Nations leaders and Premier John Horgan.

Myles Tycholis, who manages the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre, hopes to attract similar events.

Ron Mundi of Kamloops has purchased and is renovating Prince George's Connaught Motor Inn at cost of roughly $5 million. He is also working with the city to develop a new hotel at 6th Avenue and Quebec Street at an estimated cost of $15 million. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

From a marketing perspective he's taken some key steps, such as adding the word "conference" to the centre's name in 2016 to increase its visibility in search results. He has also applied for a liquor-primary licence to make it better suited for evening entertainment.

And, he says, the addition of new hotels nearby will be a boon.

"[Event organizers] request to know how many five-star hotel rooms do you have in, say, two kilometres of your venue," he said.

"So that's very important in terms of making our bid application stand out."

To that end, the centre has a symbiotic relationship with the new business-focused Courtyard by Marriott hotel being built just next door.

Bryce Beatty leads a tour of the under-construction Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Prince George. Beatty said the focus for the hotel will be on attracting government and business clientele. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"We are really trying to bring that corporate market back up to Prince George," said Bryce Beatty of One Lodging, which is managing the hotel.

"We see a lot of corporations that have moved their meetings away from Prince George, because there wasn't an ideal space."

Beatty said the existence of the conference centre nearby will be a key selling feature for the Courtyard, as will spaces within the hotel for breakout sessions outside of main events.

While Beatty is focused on the corporate market, Mundi said he's more interested in family travelers or teams staying in Prince George for tournaments and competitions.

Neither expressed any worry about overestimating the need for hotel rooms in the city, instead seeing the other investments as proof of a growing market.

"We want other hotels to showcase what's great about this community," Beatty said. 

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.