After thriving for decades, Vancouver’s tourism and hospitality industry has been predictably hit hard by the ongoing pandemic. According to the Vancouver Economic Commission, cruise and conference traffic is significant to the city, representing an estimated $2.2 billion in direct and indirect economic impact. Meanwhile, the meetings and conferences sector drives more than $1.6 billion in direct and indirect visitor spending.
We ask Royce Chwin, president and CEO of Destination Vancouver, about what is happening and projections for how next year will look like as meetings and conventions return to the city.
How is the Vancouver tourism and hospitality industry doing?
Prior to COVID, Vancouver welcomed over 11 million visitors annually and contributed approximately $14 billion to the Metro Vancouver economy and supported over 104,000 jobs. While the previous 18 months have been hard on our industry, with high vaccination rates and borders reopening, demand has picked up and our destination has welcomed back visitors.
This past summer, Metro Vancouver’s hotel occupancy was 65 per cent, this is up from same time period in 2020 (34 per cent) but still down from pre-pandemic (90 per cent). So, while things are doing better, there is still plenty of room for visitors. We have seen a strong recovery in domestic visitor volumes (especially over the summer period), but a lack of US and international visitation is slowing our recovery as Vancouver is an international destination. Pre-COVID, international tourism made up 46 per cent of total tourism revenues and 43 per cent of overnight visitation.
What do you think attracts groups and events to Vancouver?
Vancouver is an urban rainforest where the Pacific Ocean meets the snow-capped peaks of local mountains. Our award-winning convention centre, world-renowned cuisine and collaborative network of hotels are all within walking distance. It’s small enough to conquer on foot; but filled with the kind of culture, cuisine and friendly neighbourhoods that let you live like a local, in one of the world’s most walkable cities.
Whether delegates are coming from Europe, Asia, North America or beyond, getting here is easy. Our city is collaborative, a place where everyone is welcome, where honouring the traditional lands we reside on and celebrating our differences enables us and visitors to our destination to see the world differently. Vancouver has consistently been voted one of the most liveable places on the planet because of the international connections and our natural playground. All of this combined, is why Vancouver is a hotbed for innovation and has helped us attract and retain some of the brightest minds.
How is government support and COVID restrictions impacting the industry?
We appreciate the targeted support measures from the federal government for the many tourism businesses that are still facing significant pandemic related challenges. There is still friction to travel for all prospective visitors to our city. The combination of testing availability and the high cost of a PCR test further complicates travel. We know that the rebuild of our industry will take time and we need the continued partnership of government to reduce the obstacles to travel so that our city’s tourism businesses can recover.
What are your thoughts on the outlook for 2022?
There is still some uncertainty regarding the evolution of COVID-19 virus, but all things being equal, we expect to see continued improvement in travel and destination demand in 2022 relative to 2021. The domestic market will continue to lead recovery along with some additional US and international visitors as travel restrictions are eased and consumer confidence improves.
2022 also marks the return of meetings and conventions and cruise to our city. Current projections for 2022 is 45-66 per cent of pre-COVID visitation levels. The citywide scale meeting and convention calendar is fairly strong for 2022. Our goal is to help our clients be as successful as possible in an early post-CVOID world. That means supporting them in marketing and promoting their events to their respective target audience to encourage live, in-person attendance.
Do you have any specific goals?
The Destination Vancouver meetings and conventions team has been focused on rebooking hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of meeting, convention and business events that had to cancel in 2020 and 2021.The team is working to rebook for the earliest possible future year. We are also generating large scale new business for years further out.
Our community is aligning around realistic goals for 2022 actualized business events. For traditional, high value meeting conference and conventions, many in our industry feel in-person attendance for the first half of 2022 will be in the 50 per cent range when compared to pre-pandemic numbers and also compared to what was originally booked. Some are most optimistic for the second half of 2022, hopefully exceeding to 50 per cent mark.