The good times are rolling for Tofino’s tourism industry and they’re not showing any signs of slowing.
“We’re obviously doing incredibly well,” Tourism Tofino chair J.J. Belanger told the Westerly News.
“It’s the wild West Coast. We are a tourism destination like no other in Western Canada.”
Belanger touted 2016 as a “banner year” for the town’s accommodation and experience providers and said local tourism professionals are helping Tofino live up to its solid reputation as a world class destination.
“The quality of the businesses, the excursions, the resorts, and the people; it really comes down to that,” he said.
“You’ve got some very good qualified entrepreneurs, resort owners and managers that really care about the community and that’s what differentiates us a lot from other tourist communities in Canada and in North America.”
He added locals are doing their part by keeping their paradise pristine.
“It’s a clean, beautiful area,” he said.
“The people here care about the environment, they care about everything that we hold dear to our hearts and, I think, that’s what makes Tofino so popular. Visitors are coming out to experience that.”
He noted Tofino was recently named Sunset Magazine’s ‘Best Beach Town’ and must meet the lofty expectations that come with the accolades its earned.
“We need to continue to strive to be that constantly and the people here get that, they understand that and that’s why the tourists keep coming back,” he said.
“There’s so many amazing businesses and entrepreneurs in this town that step up for the summertime and the busy tourist season and it’s not just the summer anymore; it’s year-round.”
With August officially underway, Belanger is confident the strong summer season will continue into the fall and suggested Tofino’s offseason marketing campaigns, particularly its storm watching advertisements, have become the envy of other tourism hot spots.
“Fall is going to be incredible…There really is no shoulder season anymore,” he said. “Tourism Tofino has done an incredible job in marketing the destination in the offseason. Their focus has been incredible and we’re actually seen by other tourism destinations as the go-to to find out how to market the offseason.”
Belanger is also the general manager of Crystal Cove Resort and said the resort’s numbers are a testament to the disappearance of Tofino’s slow season.
“We used to drop down a third of our labour force to go into the offseason. We drop down 3-4 employees now to go into the offseason. That’s how busy we are and how much volume we’re seeing now in the offseason,” he said adding the resort employs about 30 staff in the summer.
“I was talking to a guest here today at Crystal Cove and, after I spoke to him about how exciting the winter season is, they’re coming back in February. They’ve already booked. They want to see that 30-foot green monster coming at them from the cove. That’s what’s exciting. It’s more of a wild rugged part of the West Coast that is now becoming more popular.”
To handle its booming popularity, Belanger said Tofino needs to address an increasingly troubling housing situation that’s making it difficult for seasonal and year-round staff to find accommodations.
“I know some resorts are already looking at possibly expanding their staff housing and looking at different options of what we can do in the future to house our employees and keep providing the world-class services that we’ve become known for to the guests that are coming here expecting that,” he said.
“There’s a few developments on the go in Tofino that may provide some more longterm stable accommodation in the near future. Obviously it’s not going to be tomorrow but we’re hoping within the next couple years that we’ll see some new developments come forward.”
He suggested online vacation rental markets like Airbnb could be cutting into Tofino’s available housing supply and said he hopes to see local governments lobbying for more regulations on the budding share economy during this September’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
“We’re going to see how that pans out in the fall and hopefully we can get more housing available for people,” he said.
He added the ability to find shelter for staff would be key to continuing Tofino’s tourism success.
“That high functioning degree of which we have to provide the services, and the staff labour issues that some businesses are suffering through, continues to be a challenge,” he said.
“We’re working with different partners to try and make sure we don’t have a labour shortage as we move forward and to be able to manage that progressively and ensure that our businesses have the support they need so that they can stay open seven-days-a-week 24-hours-a-day if need be and continue to serve those guests that require that level of service that we are known for now.”
Belanger believes an even bigger season is coming next year, especially considering the Pacific Rim National Park will be offering free admission all year as Parks Canada celebrates the country’s 150th birthday.
“2017 is already looking like it’s going to be another strong year…We’re seeing a lot of interest from the European markets and a lot of interest specifically from the European drive market, being the RV’s,” he said.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more activity next year…Can it get any busier? I don’t really think so, but it’s going to continue to be great for the foreseeable future.”