Welcoming Snowbirds to the West Coast

Vancouver Island welcoming snowbirds could provide mutual benefit to both winter travellers and Island communities.

While Canadian snowbirds have always eyed B.C. for its mild climate, in the winter of 2020 as pandemic restrictions keep US borders closed, it’s looking more appealing than ever. Vancouver Island is seeing a huge uptick in the numbers of people traveling from eastern Canada to wait out the winter in our more temperate weather, and the hotel and accommodation industry has jumped on the opportunities that’s presented.

“When we looked at the border closure and the risk currently associated with going south of the border” says president and CEO of the BC Hotel Association Ingrid Jarrett, “we wanted to provide an opportunity to come to British Columbia for a long-term stay.”

Already established resort corridors like Courtney/Comox and Parksville/Qualicum have
a good track record with this demographic. But the Island has a lot more to offer, so Tourism Vancouver Island and the BC Hotel Association have thought up an experimental initiative using an online portal to connect the struggling industry across B.C. with a pent-up demand for Canadians who want to winter in warmer climates.

“We’re trying to make sure that people who are coming here understand that there’s lots of other areas,” says Anthony Everett, Tourism Vancouver Island’s president & CEO, “like Port McNeill or Port Renfrew.”

The potential for a varied B.C. experience is appealing to snowbird travelers who like to immerse themselves in a local community, creating opportunities for experiential programming.

With 80,000 rooms and 60,000 employees, British Columbia’s hotels have taken a hard hit
and so have the businesses that depend on those beds being filled. Eighty-two per cent of accommodations in the province are small- and medium-sized businesses that are independently owned and operated.

“These are our neighbors, who are in our community, living and working and investing within the accommodation industry,” says Jarrett. “If they don’t survive, the ripple effect is that many other businesses will not survive either.”

Hotels will provide long-term payment options, starting with weekly and moving up to monthly rates, with some offering incentives for longer. Over 500 accommodations responded to the snowbird initiative, creating service packages to cater to the demographic’s needs and taking into account the lack of capacity for the RV industry — a pre-COVID issue that rightly needed addressing to support the increased demand for independent travel.

“If somebody wants to park their RV in a parking lot at a hotel, the hotel could charge them an amenity fee to stay, use the exercise room or whatever the amenities that property may have,” says Jarrett.

Keeping in line with current regional and provincial travel advice is like walking a tightrope, and the initiative emphasizes safe, thoughtful travel.

“Our approach is educational, trying to find that balance of business and resident needs,” says Everett. “Responsible travel is our future. We’ve been working in this way for some time.

But it’s now the most important message: be mindful about travel; be responsible. These are all things that we will carry on as we welcome people here so that we all benefit together.”