Tourism takes 10-year hit

The decline in tourists can be attributed to problems within the U.S. market, including the 2008 economic downturn

Tourism in Campbell River is down and rising BC Ferries fares are not making the situation any better, the Strathcona Regional District learned Wednesday.

Harley Elias, board member with Rivercorp, told the Strathcona Regional District board Wednesday afternoon that it’s been a struggle to bring tourists to the area, particularly during the off-season.

“We’ve had a rough 10 years in terms of tourism, certainly locally and regionally,” said Elias, noting a number of reasons.

He said the decline in tourists can be attributed to problems within the U.S. market, including the 2008 economic downturn. Elias also blamed an increase in the exchange rate from $.65 in 2000 to the Canadian dollar reaching par with the American greenback as recently as last year.

Elias said the need for passports when flying over the border also played a role, as just 35 per cent of Americans carry a passport compared with 65 per cent of Canadians.

Sayward regional district director John MacDonald believes rising ferry fares will and probably already have contributed to the decline in tourists.

“I definitely think our tourism is going to suffer, considering I just took my trailer and back to the tune of almost $500,” MacDonald said.

Vic Goodman, CEO of Rivercorp, said it’s something the organization is aware of.

“There’s no question we do have concerns about the cost of ferries on the impact of our tourism but it’s an impact across the entire Island,” Goodman said.

However, Rivercorp, through Tourism Campbell River and Region has been working with Tourism Vancouver Island to help promote and market the Campbell River area through social media, websites, the tourism guide which is available on BC Ferries, and by attending workshops and meetings to generate free publicity from travel media that attend.

The organization has also recently formed a Tourism Leadership Committee made up of regional members who work in the tourism sector. Its goal is to strike a rapport with regional tourism industry stakeholders and operators and to provide guidance and input into tourism marketing.

But Goodman wants more hands on deck and told the regional district board he would like Rivercorp to work with the regional district to enhance and expand tourism opportunities within the region.

The Strathcona Regional District is currently looking at creating a regional tourism service that would market each municipality and electoral area under one organization. The board is looking at a hybrid model that would see the regional district take on some of the work, while contracting out the rest to existing service providers such as Rivercorp.

The board has discussed making changes, such as implementing a hotel tax, as part of the tourism model.

Director and city councillor Andy Adams said Campbell River is losing out because it is one of the few areas in the province without such a tax. Port Alberni and the Cowichan Valley were the only other areas on the Island that Goodman could think of that don’t have the tax.

“We’re just not on a level playing field with Mount Waddington (North Island), Oceanside, or the Comox Valley,” Adams said.

Goodman said the tax brings dollars into tourism organizations that enable them to host events and festivals to attract tourists, such as the Vancouver Island WinterBites Festival in Courtenay in January which brought people into the community during the off-season.