Park it in Nanaimo: Our tourist attraction

January 26, 2018 - 1:28pm

NANAIMO — In case you missed my first column on Nanaimo's visitor economy, here’s the takeaways:

Visitors play a significant, positive and rapidly growing role in Nanaimo's economic well-being. Visitors aren’t just driving through Nanaimo anymore. During the summer of 2016, each visitor group (half were couples) stayed nearly a week, and spent well over $500 per day.

That part is great for everyone.

But why do visitors come to Nanaimo, what do they do while they’re here, and why do so many come back again? Today’s column focuses on the top draw.

We always hear that Nanaimo needs a big tourist attraction to succeed. Ironically, most of our visitors know we already have one. Nanaimo’s big visitor attraction really is big, so visitors spend time and money to come and enjoy it, with many planning future visits to see the parts they missed on their first visit!

Nanaimoites often don’t think of it as a tourist attraction, but they use it all the time, just the same. Best of all, no matter where you live in Nanaimo, it’s close by.

Our biggest draw is our great outdoors — especially our City parks!

It’s what attracts visitors...and we’ve been discovered.


Numbers show that visitors like to do what our residents like to do. Remember, a great place to visit is a great place to live, and a great place to live is a great place to visit. 

So far, there’s no lineups at our parks — but that isn’t the case everywhere in the world. More on that topic later.

Tourism Nanaimo started asking visitors for written feedback a handful of years ago, with anonymous visitor exit surveys being placed around town at places visitors frequent. And they had a lot to say. But let’s consider our residents first.

Destination BC’s statistics show that on Vancouver Island, residents’ top reasons for outdoor recreation are to spend quality time with family, to relax, to keep fit, to be closer to nature, to escape the daily routine and to get away from crowds.

Sixty per cent of Island residents enjoy hiking, 60 per cent go to our beaches, 52 per cent swim in our lakes and rivers (36 per cent in the ocean), and 42 per cent ride bikes on our roads.


And our visitors?

Of the 770 2016 qualified exit surveys, 58 per cent of Nanaimo visitors said they visited our parks, trails, and beaches — almost exactly the same percentage as those who live here. The only thing higher on visitors’ list of attractions compared to locals was dining out, at 71 per cent.

Get some exercise, then go eat. Good equation for Nanaimo’s economy.

And another passion for our visitors?


Fifty-seven per cent enjoyed our local shops and boutiques — shopping was almost tied with outdoor recreation for visitors. And they must like those activities, because 74 per cent had visited Nanaimo before.


With nearly 200 parks and greenspaces in Nanaimo, we should all salute the visionary individuals and organizations who worked so hard to convert our special places to parkland. You can build an amusement park anywhere, but nature’s majesty is unique and something we have been blessed with here.

And our City of Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and Culture team shines at maintaining and improving our parks. That’s an opinion shared by our returning visitors, since they have the whole world to choose from, but keep returning to Nanaimo.

They must be telling the folks back home too.


Visitor and resident numbers in Nanaimo are growing, which means so are visits to our parks. Priceless things need to be treated carefully.

There are places in the world that have become over-loved — Barcelona and Venice have hot spots with too many people and overcrowding. We don’t have anything close to those problems yet, but you may have noticed that some City parks are much busier than others at peak times.

Maffeo Sutton, Neck Point, Pipers, Westwood Lake and Colliery Dams make the busier list, though I would never describe them as crowded, even in summer.

But we need to plan for more people using our parks, because our population and visitor numbers are growing. Now is the time to think about strategies to entice more visits to some of our quieter parks to take pressures off of the popular ones, before they get TOO busy.

In a future column, I’ll report on what some other cities have done to manage visits to their special places. It’s always smart to plan ahead, because we love to Park it in Nanaimo.


Scott Littlejohn is the community engagement and marketing coordinator for Living Forest Oceanside Campground and RV Park. The Littlejohn family has been in the tourism business nearly 40 years, and Scott has also served on the board of Tourism Nanaimo and Tourism Vancouver Island. Celebrating Vancouver Island is his passion and career.