Vancouver hotels predict positive 2017 tourist season

Low dollar and surge in domestic travel buoy occupancy despite conference doldrums  

The effect on hotel occupancy of a drop in the number of major conferences hosted in Vancouver this summer has been buffered by a rise in tourism, industry insiders say | Submitted

Tourism will be strong this summer but will likely lag behind the two previous lucrative years because of a lack of citywide conferences in 2017, hoteliers are predicting.

“Last year, there were roughly eight significant citywide conferences, and this year we are something along the lines of two or three,” said Peter Finamore, regional vice-president, Pacific Northwest, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and general manager of the Fairmont Pacific Rim.

“Of the seven years that we have been open, 2015 and 2016 were our strongest years from both occupancy and average room rate perspective.”

Stephen Pearce, vice-president of marketing at Tourism Vancouver, said Metro Vancouver hotel occupancy was 90% in 2016.

Citywide conferences are a boon to Vancouver hotels; without them, demand isn’t as high.

“Typically, a citywide [conference] would occupy 10 to 15 hotels in the city of Vancouver – not entirely, but [it] may take 40% or 50% of the inventory, leaving the remaining to independent travellers and regular guests,” Finamore said. “That automatically drives room rates up, it drives more revenue into the city, occupies a larger number of rooms, and regular travellers pay more for rooms due to supply and demand.”

Tourism is still on par to be nearly as successful as the previous two years.

With visitors taking advantage of the consistently low dollar and with Canada set to celebrate its 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, Pearce said 2017 is set to be a banner year for domestic travel.

Major markets have remained relatively static over the past years, Finamore said, with most visitors coming from, in descending order, Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Germany.

He added that there has been a recent surge in visitors from south of the U.S.

“A new market that is really being tapped into over the last year and a half is Mexico. There are quite a number of direct flights from Mexico City [into Vancouver].”

The number of visitors from Mexico has been steadily rising, and Pearce predicted it will continue to do so.

“Markets that we expect to see double-digit increases from in 2017 include Australia, China and Mexico,” Pearce said. “Mexican [visits] to Vancouver grew by almost 10% in 2015 and by 33% in 2016, accounting for over 116,000 overnight visitors.”

The increase is being driven by more than flight logistics.

“Canada has a very favourable visa policy with regards to Mexico,” Pearce said, “but those visas are a little bit harder to come by if you happen to be coming from a place like Brazil. We have not yet tapped into Brazil or into Argentina and other key destinations with high- net-worth travellers, and part of that has to do with Canada’s visa policy.”

Beyond the specifics, the excellent conditions on the mountains might also have lured Mexican skiers.

“While it may not be as apparent in Vancouver, there has been a real catapult in demand from Mexico for skiing,” Finamore said. “This year our Rocky Mountain properties have had perhaps the best winter in living memory as far as demand for ski vacations.”