Travel and Hotels

Travel and Hotels

Meeting Location

SIPS 2020 will begin at 1 pm on 21 June and end at 5 pm on 23 June at the Victoria Conference Centre located at 720 Douglas Street, Victoria, British Columbia (Canada). We expect that most folks travelling from afar will arrive on or before the 20th and leave on or after the 24th.

Where to stay in Victoria?

Victoria is a very popular vacation spot. In June, hotels and other forms of short-term accommodation are often fully booked. So it is important to act now if you plan to attend SIPS 2020 and not sleep on a bench. You can cancel a booking without charge (up to 48 hours in advance) at most if not all places. Prices will almost certainly go up, not down. There is no advantage to delaying.

Hotels

The information available to us regarding hotel prices may differ from what you see online. For one thing, we have access to Canadian prices, whereas you may see prices in other currencies. As of 22 October 2019, 1 Canadian dollar = 0.69 Euro or 0.76 US dollar.

SIPS 2020 will be held in the Victoria Conference Centre, which is physically connected to The Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Empress is a grand old hotel, quite high-end and very expensive (e.g., best rate advertised now is $429 CAD/night + 17% tax for one or two people (some rooms with two beds) https://www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria/

The Chateau Victoria is a very nice hotel a few blocks from the Victoria Conference Centre. This is the only hotel at which we have blocked rooms. They have blocked 25 standard rooms at $229 CAD + 17% tax, and 25 1-bedroom suites at $299 CAD/night + 17% tax for one or two people (one king or two queen beds). For a standard room, a third person can be added for $15/night; for a suite, up to four can share the room at $15/night per additional person. For value at a hotel this is going to be hard to beat. https://www.chateauvictoria.com/ To book, please phone 1.800.663.5891 or email reservations@chateauvictoria.com. Simply state that you will be attending SIPS 2020, then indicate your desired arrival and departure dates, as well as which category of room you would like.

The Quality Inn Downtown Inner Harbour is a less fancy but still quite decent hotel a few blocks from the Victoria Conference Centre. They are currently advertising $185 CAD/night + 17% tax double occupancy.

The Travellers Inn downtown is a modest but not scary budget hotel about 20 minutes walk from the conference centre. They are currently advertising $89 CAD/night. (Note that this is not the same as Island Travel Inn, which we are not recommending.)

There are many other hotels within a 20-minute walk of the conference centre. Note that there are also inexpensive hotels farther away (e.g., on Gorge Road), but some of those are pretty seedy, and we think you will have more fun and waste less time on travel if you find accommodations closer to the Victoria Conference Centre.

Bed and Breakfasts

There are many B&Bs in Victoria, with a wide range of prices. Many of them are in the James Bay neighbourhood, an easy walk from the Victoria Conference Centre. You know how to search the web for places. Just pay attention to location so that you don’t get stuck out in, say, Oak Bay (a nice neighbourhood but not much to do there and quite a long trip to the conference centre).

Airbnb

Yes, we have that option as well, offering a huge range of prices. Again, just pay attention to location so that you don’t get stuck out in, say, Oak Bay.

Climate

The average temperature in June is around 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit). Summers are typically comfortable, and as a consequence, not all hotels have air-conditioning, which foreign visitors might find uncomfortable on particularly hot days.

Travel to Victoria

Victoria a small city on an island. Happily, the beautiful Victoria International Airport (airport code YYJ) is well served, with about 300 flights per day. Several airlines currently have one-stop flights from major North American cities to Victoria for under $600 USD round trip. Icelandair has a 1-stop flight from London to Vancouver for £360.  Flights from Amsterdam to Vancouver are currently at €400.

Most folks flying from afar will change aircraft in Seattle or Vancouver (or Calgary). The extra leg of the flight costs relatively little, the layover is usually mercifully brief, and the connecting flights are gorgeous because the airlines mostly use low-flying craft to fly over the island-strewn waters (about half an hour in the air from Seattle, and a mere 15 minutes from Vancouver).

An option that may slightly reduce cost (and climate footprint) is to fly into Vancouver and then switch to a bus that goes from the Vancouver airport to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. The bus drives onto the ferry and passengers get off the bus and into the passenger areas of the ferry for the scenic 1-hour and 35-minute sail. Then back on the bus for the 45-minute drive from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to downtown Victoria. If all goes well, it takes a bit more than 4 hours from departing the Vancouver airport to arriving at the bus station in downtown Victoria (which is right beside the conference centre), and it costs about $70/person (Canadian dollar). For details see https://bcfconnector.com

For those flying into the Victoria International Airport, note that it is about a 40-minute drive north of downtown. There is a shuttle bus from the Victoria airport to downtown. There are also always cabs. For both of these modes of local ground transport, arrangements do not need to be made in advance; just walk out the doors of our beautiful small airport, and you will see the shuttle bus and cabs. The shuttle costs about $22 CAD; a cab is about $50 CAD + tip for one person. At this time we do not have Uber-like operations, but that may well have changed by next June.

FLOAT PLANE LANDING ON VICTORIA'S INNER HARBOUR
FLOAT PLANE LANDING ON VICTORIA’S INNER HARBOUR

For the more adventuresome, one can fly harbour-to-harbour from downtown Vancouver or Seattle on float planes that deliver passengers to the Victoria inner harbour within 300 m of the conference hotel (although getting from the Vancouver or Seattle airports to the harbour planes in those areas is a bit of a trek). The main float-plane companies are Harbour Air and Kenmore Air. The feeling as one’s float plane settles onto the water of Victoria’s inner harbour and thrums up to the dock is pure delight.

Yet another way to travel between downtown Vancouver and Victoria is Helijet, a very slick helicopter service that lands about a kilometer from the conference site; there are always cabs aplenty when the heli lands.

Image shows Helijet landing

Attractions in and around Victoria

Victoria is the capital city of the province of British Columbia.  It is on the southern tip of 460-kilometer-long Vancouver Island, about 120 km northwest of Seattle and a comparable distance south-southwest of the mainland city of Vancouver. Vancouver Island made the New York Times’ list of the “Top 31 Places to Go” and Victoria was voted one of the world’s most popular destinations by Travel & Leisure and by Condé Nast magazines. Trip Advisor’s Traveller’s Choice rated Victoria as the #1 destination to visit in Canada.

Image shows a map of Vancouver Island

Victoria is a tourist town in the best senses of the phrase – it is beautiful, it has lots of terrific restaurants, and there are many things to do within walking distance of the Victoria Conference Centre (e.g., whale watching, museums, the inner harbour, shops, the Parliament building, parks, etc.).  With a population of about 370,000 and approximately 3.5 million visitors each year, Victoria is big enough to be fun and provide a wide range of services and resources, yet clean and safe and small enough to be easy to navigate.

Image shows a whale breaching the surface of the bay

Victoria and Vancouver Island have a great deal to offer conference attendees, tourists, hikers, and those with water sports interests.  Coffee and beer have long been celebrated as art forms in this region, and in recent years craft distilleries (mostly gin and vodka) have blossomed. There are many restaurants and bars and a decent live music scene.  Popular local activities include whale-watching expeditions in the Salish Sea and around the San Juan Islands and water sports in the inner harbour such as kayaking or paddle boarding There is also good hiking, sightseeing, serious kite-flying, bungee jumping, zip lining, and other pursuits to enjoy.

Whale-watching expeditions leave from the harbour directly in front of the Fairmont Empress (within 300 m) and water sport rental equipment (including wet or dry suits) is 6 blocks away (Ocean River Adventures).  Whale watching usually involves 3-4 hours aboard a boat (ranging from zodiacs to cabin cruisers).  Boats are required to keep a substantial distance from the whales, but passengers can nonetheless get very good views.

Other attractions in and around Victoria include the Royal BC Museum (200 m from the Empress), Robert Bateman Museum of Art (300 m from Empress), the Victoria Art Gallery (30-min walk), Craigdarroch Castle (15 min away), Beaconhill Park (500 m away), the world-famous Butchart Gardens (40 min bus ride), and Butterfly World (near Butchart). There are a number of good golf courses in greater Victoria (e.g., Cordova Bay, Royal Colwood, Bear Mountain). This area is also well known as a bird-watcher’s paradise. Prime spots on the Salish Sea include Botanical Beach at Sooke and Port Renfrew (1-2 hours) for mountain, marine, and forest experiences.

With online searching and assistance from the staff over at the Victoria Tourism Office (directly across the street from the Empress) you can often find discounts for individuals and groups on many activities, far too many for us to recommend to you.  Finally, numerous bus as well as horse and carriage tours of the downtown and scenic Victoria can be booked at the hotel, through the tourism office, or online on your own.

Before or after the conference you could travel north on the Malahat Highway up to warm (for Canada) beaches in Parksville or the open Pacific ocean and surfing near the hip village of Tofino.  En route you can stop to enjoy one of many island wineries (primarily whites such as pinot grigio).  Folks more into urban scenes could spend time in Vancouver and/or Seattle before or after SIPS.

Swiftsure sailboat race on the Salish Sea near Victoria
Swiftsure sailboat race on the Salish Sea near Victoria

Two great websites for info about visiting Victoria are https://www.tourismvictoria.com/ and www.hellobc.com/en-CA/RegionsCities/Victoria.htm.