Ben Duthie, sales and operations manager with Prince of Whales, stands outside their office in the Inner Harbour as a tour prepares to take off. The company has invested in a new catamaran that will be a sister ship to the environmentally friendly Salish Sea Dream. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Optimistic Victoria whale watching company invests in new vessel

Banner 2017 tourist season helps Prince of Whales decide to boost service

A banner 2018 tourism season has helped Prince of Whales make further investment into environmentally friendly equipment.

The company announced this week that it has placed an order for a sister ship to the Salish Sea Dream, a catamaran used by Prince of Whales for its Vancouver to Victoria day trips and on the Inner Harbour to Butchart Gardens combination tour.

The recent season saw the company have multiple sold-out days, especially on its Whales and Gardens tour, said Ben Duthie, sales and operations manager.

“The growth we saw in that product specifically … goes directly to the bottom line from an investment strategy, which gives us the ability to pursue new equipment, to repurpose the boats we have and to pursue more business in Vancouver,” he said.

The new vessel will have improved water jet technology to further reduce the noise and offer better efficiency. The catamarans have no propellers, drives or other machinery hanging below the hull, which the company says eliminates the risk of a marine mammal strike.

ABD Enterprises of North Vancouver has been contracted to build the second catamaran, which will launch in the spring of 2019 and be based in Victoria. There is also an option for a third vessel to launch in 2020, should demand continue to grow, Duthie said.

The 2017 season was said to be the best ever for the company in terms of sightings, particularly for humpbacks and transient orcas, with more than 100 unique transient killer whales observed.

Speaking to the optimism about continued growth in the industry shown by Prince of Whales, Tourism Victoria CEO Paul Nursey pointed to the jump in the local conference business and the growth in shoulder season visits.

Where as recently as two years ago there might be a handful of people on annual site visits for the Victoria Conference Centre, he said, last year there were 42 participants and deals were closed with all of them.

“We’re now booking conferences into 2022 and 2023, thousands of people. So creating that long-term foundation on the conference side only helps the leisure side to grow,” he said.

Nursey pointed out that Victoria was just named the number 2 small city in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, ahead of such tourist hot spots as Dublin, Copenhagen and others.

“Global operators are now taking a look at Victoria, so for local operators, they have to up their game – they are upping their game, to make sure they offer the quality of service. This is a really smart move. Tourism will always be cyclical, but what we’re trying to build is a stronger and more resilient foundation and I think we’re getting there.”

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