As the Sunday traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway and the lineups at the base of the Sea to Sky Gondola every weekend attest, tourism is up in the district.
It all started with the preparations for the 2010 Olympic Games set in Vancouver and Whistler, according to Lesley Weeks, executive director of Tourism Squamish.
“The upgrade to the Sea to Sky Highway along with the Sea to Sky Gondola opening in May 2014 was a catalyst for tourism in Squamish,” she told The Squamish Chief.
“The momentum has continued since that spring with Squamish Valley Music Festival growth and lineup of top-tier artists,” said Weeks, noting they generated “significant media coverage placing Squamish on the world stage.”
According to statistics from the District of Squamish, the Squamish Visitor Centre saw more than 59,000 tourists walk through its doors in 2015, up 30 per cent over 2014.
The hotel occupancy rate in 2015 was up by 14 per cent over 2014, Scott McQuade, chair of Tourism Squamish, told district council when he presented to the committee of the whole in April. Hotel occupancy averaged 64 per cent in 2015, according to McQuade. “That means capacity on every single weekend during the summer,” he said.
Overall occupancy was 41 per cent in 2012, 45 per cent in 2013 and in 2014, 55 per cent, according to McQuade.
“Things are going well for tourism in Squamish,” he said.
Weeks said staff members at Tourism Squamish were disappointed when the annual summer Squamish Valley music Festival was cancelled, but she said tourists will come to Squamish anyway.
“This summer, we anticipate that our hotels will be at capacity for that weekend. However, we will likely not achieve the rate that we would have with the festival in town, nor will we see the extended length of stay that we had from the crew leading up to and extending beyond the festival,” she said.
“We are excited about new opportunities for amazing festivals and events in the future, perhaps positioned towards the end of the summer or early fall to help extend our season.”
In honour of National Tourism Week, May 29 to June 4, Mayor Patricia Heintzman spent Monday visiting local tourism hotspots to highlight the importance of the tourism industry to Squamish’s economy.
Heintzman said in order for tourism to remain a positive force in Squamish, it’s important for the district to have a diversified economy and have policy in place to avoid “dark windows” – tourist housing that sits empty for parts of the year. “When we did the oceanfront, we set up in the phased development agreement parameters by which you don’t have dark windows,” she said. “Anything on the oceanfront, for example, if it isn’t occupied, it has to go into a rental pool.”
Heintzman said Squamish so far has also avoided the issues of other communities of having large groups of visitors behaving badly. “We don’t get the partiers,” she said, “We get the hardcore athletes, and we get the families.”
Heintzman said Squamish could offer more marine recreation for tourists. “We have the kiteboarding stuff and the local sailors, but really we haven’t developed that marine tourism aspect.”
For Tourism Squamish, the focus is currently on attracting multi-generational tourists from the Lower Mainland, Weeks said. Tourists seeking recreation adventures remains the largest market segment for Squamish, she noted.
The organization runs targeted media campaigns in Vancouver and also further afield such as in The New York Times and on CNN. The Times article that featured Squamish as one of the top 52 places in the world to visit in 2015 came about after Tourism Squamish sponsored the writer’s visit to Squamish, which cost the not-for-profit organization $1,200 but bought invaluable attention to the district, Weeks said.