As far as islands go, we’ve got it pretty good. The Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards recently named Vancouver Island the number one island destination in Canada and the number six island destination in the world, based on the votes of 46 476 readers who took part in the survey.
“An award that’s a readers’ choice award . . . is not advertising. It’s much more believable [to the reader],” says Dave Petryk, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island. “Getting this type of coverage is much more valuable.” Particularly when you consider the fact that Condé Nast Traveler has a readership of more than two million people.
He says some of the criteria used by Condé Nast in the survey includes scenic beauty, friendliness of people, quality of accommodation and quality of food and beverage services. “One of the things we hear about all the time when we’re out in the marketplace talking to travelling consumers is the friendliness of people, the hospitality that they receive here. So that, I think, is one of the most significant areas.”
Another positive when promoting the Island is climate. “We compare Vancouver Island, especially Victoria, to the western Mediterranean because of the year-round climate,” says Petryk. “One of the realities is that darn near anything that you want to do in the Vancouver Island region, you can do . . . year-round. And there’s such a variety of attractions and opportunities.”
Rob Gialloreto, president and CEO of Tourism Victoria, echoes this, commenting on the strong foreign student population brought in by UVic, Camosun College and Royal Roads University. “One of the reasons students come to Victoria aside from the quality of education is the scenery,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of natural beauty, and the climate’s pretty good.”
People can also get around the city by their own means. “We’re known as one of the most walkable cities in Canada — you can walk just about anywhere in the downtown core,” says Gialloreto. “And we have a really expansive pathway system that’s just getting bigger, so cycling is huge.”
Petryk says the cultural and historic appeal of Victoria’s attractions are a main draw to the city, and that people look at other parts of the Island for outdoor activities such as wildlife viewing and whale watching.
Gialloreto also notes the “growing outdoor-experience theme, whether that’s going to WildPlay [Element Park] or zip-lining, that kind of stuff.” He suggests that, aside from the entertainment value, students appreciate these types of activities because they’re fairly inexpensive.
With the unstable global market coupled with the strong Canadian dollar, Petryk says Tourism Vancouver Island has put in a concerted effort over the past couple of years to sell the idea of travelling Vancouver Island to the locals. “We try to get Vancouver Island residents to realize what people off of Vancouver Island realize, and that’s what great places there are to spend time at,” he says. “There are more and more people that are staying closer to home — it’s expensive to leave the Island — and when you think about all the things you can do right here in your backyard, it really makes sense.”
One of the challenges in promoting the Island to Island residents, according to Petryk, is that “they wouldn’t go too far from where they [reside] unless there is some inspiration.” He encourages locals to explore the more remote and less-talked-about areas, such as the “spectacular” Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Telegraph Cove areas of northern Vancouver Island. He also suggests that when people make trips to the West Coast, they visit places like Tahsis, Zeballos and Gold River in addition to Tofino and Ucluelet. Petryk says these places are “incredibly beautiful areas as well, and off the beaten track — and that’s what people want.”
If you travel to Victoria as a student, or live here and want to experience more of the Island, there is a lot to do. Though Gialloreto admits staying in hotels can be expensive, there are more affordable options as well. If you’re heading out to hike or cycle, you’ll be outdoors already, so why not camp? There’s always the option of crashing on the couches and floors or in the carports of friends or family, should you know anyone in these areas. And what’s a true road trip with friends if you’re not reclining the seats and kicking up for a night in the car? But whatever it takes, the Island should be explored. Says Gialloreto, “It’s just an endless playground, if you will, of outdoor experiences.”