Vancouver Island’s moderate climate and stunning natural beauty are complemented by luxury accommodations, first-rate conference centres and a diverse range of activities. By David Pye, May/June 2009
Cycling in Vancouver
Marischal De Armond’s vision of an ideal incentive programme would be to take a group of 100 on a journey touching on many aspects of Vancouver Island’s natural beauty.
De Armond’s trip would begin in Victoria, providing an urban experience in one of Canada’s most unique ‘big little cities.’ From there, the group would wind its way northward along the coast, to Nanaimo.
“I would introduce a bit of a cycling experience,” says De Armond, president of Victoria-based De Armond Management Ltd. and a 25-year veteran of the events industry. “It’s fairly flat land and you could infuse some winery visits into a nice day of cycling.” Continuing north, they would reach the sandy shores of the Parksville-Qualicum region, sometimes referred to as the ‘Canadian Riviera.’ Apart from spectacular beaches, Parksville-Qualicum boasts provincial parks, wildlife refuges and golf courses.
Next, the cyclists could take a train that runs from Victoria to the Courtenay-Comox region. There, they could experience the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa and the Crown Isle Resort.
‘Full Meal Deal’
“You can get cut-rate deals to a place like Las Vegas, but that offers a pretty one-dimensional experience,” says De Armond. “Vancouver Island is the ‘full meal deal,’ where you can blend the arts and culture experience of a larger city like Victoria with the natural beauty of the wilderness, ocean and aboriginal culture that surrounds some of the island’s smaller towns.”
Vancouver Island’s natural beauty is complemented by luxury accommodations, from big-city convention hotels to small, five-star resorts. There are 48 golf courses, including 18 championship courses and full-service resorts.
Opened in 1989, the Victoria Conference Centre features 73,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 16 multi-purpose meeting rooms, a large exhibit hall and a 400-seat lecture theatre. The facility is in the heart of downtown Victoria, within walking distance of many business-oriented hotels.
“There are some amazing facilities up and down the island that can cater to a large spectrum of groups,” says De Armond, whose company organizes about 20 conferences annually for association and government meetings, primarily in Victoria. “There are some beautiful little intimate spots for smaller meetings, as well as several good choices that can host up to 1,200 people.”
Outside Victoria, Nanaimo has targeted the meetings market; a convention facility opened in 2008. The Vancouver Island Conference Centre’s 38,000 sq. ft. of oceanside meetings space accommodates 1,300.
That focus on meetings in the mid-island region led Wendy Sears and her business partner, Susan Lewis, to form Lewis & Sears Event Management two years ago. Based in Parksville, the company organized, in March, a FAM for association planners from Eastern Canada, to showcase the Nanaimo area.
“This area is still pretty new as a meetings destination, so we introduced them to some of the truly unique properties in the area,” says company president Sears. “A big part of it was also to showcase all of the things that they can do outside of Nanaimo.”
The three-day event included team-building at Wildplay Park, located 15 minutes south of Nanaimo and featuring bungee jumping, treetop rope courses, ziplines and more. The group was also given an aerial view of Nanaimo aboard Harbour Air, then lunched at The Dinghy Dock, a floating pub/restaurant on nearby Protection Island. The FAM included tours of Nanaimo venues, including the Port Theatre and the Nanaimo District Museum. They were also bused about 20 minutes north to Parksville-Qualicum, to beaches, golf courses and luxurious resorts.
“The thing about Vancouver Island is that there are so many amazing resorts, from really super-high-end luxurious to the more rustic,” says Sears.
“People have a really good variety to choose from, in terms of accommodation levels and overall value.”
Both De Armond and Sears recommend the west-coast enclave of Tofino, where the scenery along Long Beach induces what De Armond calls a “spiritual experience.” Tofino offers some of the island’s best whale watching, surfing, kayaking and hot springs. It also features the Wickaninnish Inn, one of four Relais & Chateaux resorts on the Island, along with the Aerie Resort and Spa, Sooke Harbour House and the Sonora Resort.
“Vancouver Island is a destination that people want to travel to and anytime you organize a conference that draws from across the country, you will get a strong pickup,” says De Armond. “It offers great value for the type of experience that you get and is a destination that understands the value of tourism.”
— David Pye is a Montreal-based freelance writer.