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'We're back': Victoria Clipper ferry's return kicks off early tourist season full of optimism

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As the Clipper arrived in Victoria’s Inner Harbour on Thursday full of passengers, others were waiting to board for the return trip back to Seattle.

“I’m going to go and visit a buddy for four days,” said Kyle Barnes.

“I’m going to the Emerald City Comic Con,” said Magnus McElroy.

Thomas Zobrosky just arrived from south of the border, one of many early season tourists ready to spend their time and money in Victoria for a few days.

“(We're) going to explore the city,” said Zobrosky. “It’s the first time here for us and we just decided to take a little vacation.”

It was an exciting day for FRS Clipper.

“We’re moving ahead, launching the season and we’re back in service,” said Scott Meis, vice-president of marketing for FRS Clipper.

The ferry will begin with a Thursday to Monday service before starting daily trips on April 6.

“We’re optimistic that this is going to be the year of revenge travel,” said Meis. “Where people finally get out and enjoy those trips throughout the year without the concerns of COVID lingering over their heads.”

Last year, tourism on Vancouver Island was strong, with hotel occupancies almost returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“Hotels saw really good numbers, nearing capacity for the entire summer,” said Bill Lewis, chair of the Greater Victoria Hotel Association.

The improvement was fueled by the return of outdoor events, festivals and conferences.

But other parts of the visitor economy – such as museum and restaurant visits – did not recover as strongly in 2022.

“Certainly some of the attractions continue on their road to recovery,” said Jodi Westbury, vice-president of marketing and communications for Destination Greater Victoria.

Looking forward to this year, the organization sees less reliance on a domestic market, as international travellers are expected to return.

“We should start to see a better performance across the whole sector,” said Westbury.

The Greater Victoria Hotel Association is predicting another strong season ahead.

“I could see the numbers being similar to last year in terms of volumes, but then, rates are going up because of inflationary pressures that we see everywhere,” said Lewis.

Up the island in Nanaimo, tourism industry organizations are also looking forward to a strong summer season.

“I feel like a kid in a candy store,” said Jen Houtby-Ferguson, interim executive director of Tourism Nanaimo.

“This is such an exciting time for Nanaimo.”

The Harbour City is forecasting a solid 2023 tourist season, anchored by a new hotel in its downtown core, which will welcome its first guests within days.

“It means that we have the opportunity to bid on much larger conferences, working in partnership, of course, with the conference centre,” said Houtby-Ferguson.

Tourism Nanaimo says the new hotel will be a game changer for the city.  

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