Drawing a capacity crowd

In August, Ucluelet found itself so full of tourists that some who arrived without a reservation were turned away because there was nowhere to put them.

Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce outgoing executive director Sue Payne said it is the

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first time Ucluelet has hit its tourism capacity in about a decade.

“It definitely happened in the early 2000’s when we didn’t have as much accommodation, since Black Rock and Whiskey Landing and some of the other bed and breakfasts that have zoomed up…we’ve

definitely seen an increase in rooms available so we haven’t really been maxed out previously until now,” she said.

“For some reason August tends to be the time when everybody travels out here and we haven’t had a ton of fog this year so it’s even been better.”

She suggested the chamber and Tourism Ucluelet would make a stronger effort in future marketing materials to urge travelers to make reservations before arriving.

Ucluelet’s tourism numbers have been up consistently from last year’s with a 32 per cent increase in visitation from May-June.

Ucluelet’s downtown centre welcomed 899 parties from April to June ,up from 727 the year before and the Pacific Rim Visitors Centre welcomed 7,222 visitors from April to June, compared to 5,043 during that same time period last year.

Payne said the tourist boom is encouraging but has put a strain on Ucluelet’s infrastructure.

“It’s a bit difficult for the capacity of this small little town but

we’re getting though it,” she said.

While visitation is celebrating big numbers, some are questioning

whether tourists are spending while they’re here and Payne said online comments could be prompting incoming guests to stock up before driving over Sutton Pass.

“You look at TripAdvisor and you look at some of these sites where people are talking about other things and

they’re saying ‘hey, it’s expensive to purchase goods in Ucluelet and Tofino so purchase everything before you go,”‘ she said.

“I think in that regard maybe some of the RV travelers are coming already set up…There’s still lots of people asking for tours and things to do, (so) they are definitely spending money in town -which is a good thing.”

She said negative comments posted online could be detrimental to in-town tourist spending and she encourages locals to dispel the high-price rumours online.

“They’re not going to come out and seek it for themselves, they’re just going to believe what they see and what they read and if somebody is plastering their Facebook page with issues that it’s really expensive out here, you’re going to get a few people that see it and then you’re going to get a few more people that see it,” she said.

“Social media is a great marketing tool but it’s also a great venue for people that like to complain.”

Ucluelet harbour manager Kevin Cortes said he has seen an increase in recreational boaters from last year.

“From my perspective, the recreational traffic has been really good this year,” he said.

Susan Lee of Blackberry Cove Marketplace said more tourists are walking through her door this year than last.

“My impression is certainly that there’s more tourists around, more coming in the doors, more out on the streets walking around, it just seems and feels busier and the town seems to have a bit more of a buzz than I’ve noticed in the past few years.”

Co-op Gas Bar manager Michelle Martin also said business is up from last year.

Amie Shimizu, who co-owns the Wya Surf Cafe and helps manage the Ucluelet First Nation’s Wya Surf Shop, said this year’s summer season has been busier than years past and Ucluelet has a busier vibe.

She also noted the surf season is expanding with boards staying in the water past summer.

“In the fall seasons I notice the beaches are still more populated and I see more surfers in the water so in my mind that makes me feel there’s more people coming,” she said.

She said visitors are still excited about the West Coast’s surf draw.

“There’s always something to learn and everybody that comes here to this area I talk about surfing with them, we share the stoke and you can feel that stoke; there’s no difference in any years past that I see where people are actually less stoked or less interested,” she said.

She said visitors are coming in excited to sign up for surf lessons and camps.

“Definitely a lot of energy going into learning surfing and a lot of bodies in the water right now,” she said. “I’m seeing an up and up for sure; it’s not getting any less busy in the water.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca