SAINT JOHN – The busy tourism season is supposed to be behind us, but Uptown Saint John is anticipating an influx this weekend that’s expected to fill all of the available hotel rooms in the city centre.
“We’ve got a few rooms left, but we’re forecasting a sellout,” said Paulette Hicks, general manager of the Delta Hotels & Marriott Saint John and president of the Saint John Hotel Association.
“There are hotels that are already sold out, so we’re anticipating a high demand weekend for all hotels in Saint John.”
Overall, Hicks said there has been a 24 per cent increase in hotel bookings for the coming weekend, from last year to this one.
So what would produce such a spike? There are the usual events that help fill hotels at this time of year, said Hicks. Regional youth basketball and hockey tournaments are taking place that will draw people from out of town.
But Hicks said credit should also go to Uptown Sparkles, an annual event in the city centre that marks the beginning of the Christmas season (for the grown-ups, of course, the Santa Claus parade is the kick-off for the kids).
Uptown Sparkles is taking place December 1 and will feature many different activities from approximately 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. There is the Mayor’s Christmas tree lighting in Loyalist Plaza, carolers and saxophone players on the city streets, a special Christmas light display in the City Market, horse trolley rides, and a holiday craft market in Centrebeam Place. The retailers get into the spirit as well, with businesses like Java Moose barbecuing s’mores on the street.
The event draws thousands of people to the city streets that night, many of whom are spending the night rather than go home, said Hicks.
“Some people will come and they’ll drive home, or they’ll cab home or take advantage of the Operation Red Nose program,” she said. “But there is this shift toward, ‘take the elevator home.’ People saying, ‘you know what, let’s just make a night of it and really enjoy the city.’ ”
Nancy Tissington, executive director of Uptown Saint John, which organizes Uptown Sparkles, said the event has certainly grown in popularity over the years.
“The streets are packed,” said Tissington. “It’s bananas. I think it’s great. I don’t even know if the weather would deter people [from coming out] at this point. It’d have to be a really bad storm to keep people away from this.”
People shop and eat in area restaurants, which have been so busy in past years they’re adding food trucks for people who can’t get a table or just want to grab a bite as they walk the streets.
Tissington says people are doing some Chrismas shopping, but it’s more about getting into the spirit of the season.
“People are looking for that experience, they’re not just looking for the buys,” said Tissington. “We have the horse-drawn trolleys. We have the carolers out, we have saxophone players. They’re trying to capture that essence of the Christmas spirit. It’s really about the experience of getting ready for the season.”
Tissington says Discover Saint John has been helping them market the event to communities across the region, even promoting it places like Moncton and Fredericton.
Hicks said marketing this event is producing results in those communities.
“Saint John is really appealing to them,” said Hicks. “We’re the only city located on a waterfront, and you do feel a real magic this time of year…There is something magical about it.”