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Port Alberni hotel builds on First Nations partnership

Hotel plans support tourism, economic growth on Vancouver Island
Bamfield, more accessible than ever thanks to road upgrades, is among the destinations that will benefit from increased hotel capacity in Port Alberni.

Surrounding development and local recreational opportunities is boosting demand for hotel rooms in Port Alberni, where – by some accounts – a quarter of the existing hotel stock has been converted to meet demand for multifamily rentals.

“Port Alberni is well-positioned as a gateway community,” according to Pat Deakin, economic development manager with Port Alberni. “With the road to Bamfield being upgraded we expect more people to stay here while going out to China Creek, Bamfield, and the Broken Group of Islands one day; Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim Park a second day; and exploring the Alberni Valley a third.”

But the current stock of approximately 417 hotel rooms isn’t enough to meet current demand let alone future growth of the region’s tourism sector.

“Port Alberni hosts many tournaments of all types and when the more desirable properties here are full, teams often book rooms in nearby communities,” Deakin said, adding that he understands more than 100 rooms – or about a quarter of the local stock – is given over to monthly rentals.

The situation is a common one in smaller communities, where affordable housing is in short supply, but it also creates competition for the hotel rooms that could support the kind of broad-based economic growth rural economies like central Vancouver Island need.

Port Alberni revived a Municipal and Regional District Tax earlier this year after a 10-year hiatus. The tax of two per cent on stays in hotels and short-term accommodations will support destination marketing, supporting greater visitor traffic.

To accommodate those visitors, the Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses, Tseshaht First Nation, and Calgary-based MasterBUILT Hotels Ltd. have joined forces to develop a new 76-room Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Port Alberni.

A location has yet to be announced for the hotel, which will total 39,000 square feet with room for future expansion.

“This is a very exciting project that [Huu-ay-aht First Nations] has been working on for a number of years,” said Huu-ay-aht Councillor Evan Cook, who oversees economic development for the Huu-ay-aht. “This partnership makes it possible to move forward on the Microtel, something that will benefit both nations and the Alberni Valley.”

The community-wide benefits were also flagged by David Donaldson, president and CEO of MasterBUILT Hotels, which foregrounds social as well as economic development in its expansion strategy.

“We are committed to working alongside First Nations communities and creating projects that benefit the land developed and the local people,” the company states on its website.

“We are very excited to partner with Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses and Tseshaht First NaIon to bring a brand-new hotel to Port Alberni,” Donaldson said in announcing the plans for Port Alberni. “The Microtel Inn & Suites will raise the level of accommodation for both business and leisure travellers in the market, and more importantly, it will support economic growth in the local community for decades to come.”

This is a vision that aligns with the city’s vision for its tourism sector, Deakin said.

“The hotel being proposed by Tseshaht, Huu-ay-aht and Microtel is a great step towards providing the additional rooms we need,” he said.

Deakin believes there is room for additional operators to enter the market, including a boutique hotel.