Nelson may be the cat skiing capital of the world

Nelson area tourism sees double digit increase

Nelson area may be the cat skiing capital of the world, which is only one reason why tourists are flocking to the Kootenays.

Nelson’s tourism industry is reporting a double digit increase in visitors since 2013, with an approximately 12 percent jump.

“Right from the start of the year we could see a trend starting to develop,” said Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce. “There was good activity over the course of the winter and that has continued.”

Weather was a crucial factor in attracting those tourists, as was the recovery of the global economy.

“The only real issue that impacted us was the fires. People were calling us and cancelling, asking whether we were accessible or if the air quality was okay. We were pretty fortunate,” said Dianna Ducs, executive director of Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism.

“We’re a bit like farmers. If the weather’s good, people will probably be coming out. We live in a magical place and people that visit once most usually want to return to visit or live.”

Ducs said tourism was up 12 percent last year, and they’re expecting an overall 7 to 10 percent jump again this year.

Thomson said the U.S. economy’s strength is to be thanked for many of our American visitors. He said the fact that the Canadian dollar is currently trading at slightly below the American greenback is an incentive for some.

“Sometimes they’re shocked when they visit and find out there’s a big difference. It’s not something you want to promote too much, you don’t want to tell them Canada’s on sale. But people appreciate saving a few pennies while they’re here.”

Thomson said the summer season typically takes care of itself, tourism-wise, and they spend most of their time trying to attract visitors during the other seasons.

For June and July the Nelson Visitor Centre saw a 12 percent increase in visitors. That number rose to 13.5 percent in August.

Ryan Martin, owner of the Hume Hotel, said they’ve been seeing such an increase in visitors that they’re struggling to keep up. Though he doesn’t have the final numbers yet, he estimates they’ve seen over 10 per cent more visitors this August than last.

“I think we’re blowing away our tourists. We’re a very cosmopolitan little town, and there’s nowhere else in the country like Nelson, I believe. The theatre, night life, restaurants, outdoor recreation. The only issue is we’re finding it tough for staffing levels because everyone wants to be out at the festivals having fun,” he said.

Nelson’s unique culture also proves to be a draw.

“People tell us they come here and there’s just something about the place. It comes from the community of people who live here. The arts, the culture, the boutique shopping, the artists’ centres, the theatres. And that also expands into our natural beauty,” said Ducs.

Martin credited much of the increased foot traffic to the global economy, but said Whitewater’s ever-expanding operation is also a huge draw, as is heli-skiing and cat-skiing. (Cat-skiing is alpine skiing in a natural environment using a snowcat instead of a chairlift.)

Ducs is currently investigating whether the Nelson area is the cat-skiing capital of the world.

“We have five different cat ski companies just in the Nelson Kootenay Lake area, and heli-skiing. It’s been hugely successful. Most of these companies are already sold out for the winter season.”

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