SRD left out when it comes to tourism on the Island

The Strathcona Regional District is looking at a regional tourism strategy

The Strathcona Regional District is being left out in the cold while communities on the northern and southern ends of the Island have banded together.

That’s according to Mary Mahon-Jones, who is studying the feasibility of a regional tourism service for the Strathcona Regional District.

Such a function is one of the regional district board’s strategic priorities and at a meeting Jan. 23, Mahon-Jones presented her preliminary findings to the board.

“The regions to the north and south of Strathcona are taking a regional approach to tourism, leaving Strathcona at a competitive disadvantage,” said Mahon-Jones of consulting firm Mahon Jones Associates. “You guys are in the middle so you’ve got to do something to bump that up.”

The regional functions are providing travellers and potential tourists with a one-stop shop, comprehensive listing of all the communities and areas in their region.

Mahon-Jones said the regional service does not take over a community’s tourism efforts, but rather compliments it.

She said in talking to stakeholders and tourism providers in the area, most saw the benefit in a regional approach.

“Most stakeholders saw the primary goal as to get everyone working together,” Mahon-Jones said. “With a regional approach, it would allow a concerted effort to bring everybody up to a certain level of success.”

However, Mahon-Jones said some who represent the smaller communities and the electoral areas in the Strathcona Regional District, were worried they wouldn’t get much of a say.

“There was a considerable amount of concern about the potential dominance of Campbell River in decision making when it comes to a regional service,” Mahon-Jones said.

Then there were the people she spoke to who don’t want to promote tourism at all.

“Some feel tourists can be invasive, they mess up the beaches, throw garbage on the beach,” Mahon-Jones said. “Not all residents are enthusiastic about increased tourism.”

But the majority are.

Lezlie Smith, who worked with Mahon-Jones on the study, said in speaking with hotels in the area, she learned that it has been a struggle attracting tourists on a regular basis.

“Occupancy is very seasonal, it’s at 46.4 per cent, which is very low and that affects employment,” Smith said. “Employees get laid off.

“Average room rates are well below what they should be. They have not been able to increase them above $114,” Smith added.

“Tourism demand has not returned to pre-2008 levels.”

Mahon-Jones and Smith left the regional district board with four different options to consider in regards to a regional tourism function.

The first is to do nothing, the second is to create the regional tourism service which could cost $230,000-$260,000 at the low end (Vancouver Island North) and $650,000 at the high end (Parksville/Qualicum).

Or, the regional district could choose to provide annual assistance to existing community tourism functions to help with marketing and promotion or, it could elect to go with a hybrid approach which would involve the regional district taking on parts of the regional service and tourism operators doing the rest.

The board will choose which option it would like to look into following the regional district’s budget workshop.