Stable funding for visitor info centres

Grand Forks Visitor Centre is one of several community visitor service centres in B.C. to benefit from a new three-year base funding model.

Grand Forks Visitor Centre is one of several community visitor service centres in B.C. to benefit from a new three-year base funding model. Christina Lake and Greenwood will also benefit.

Destination BC made the announcement in a press release sent out Sept. 21, which includes a new minimum base of $10,000 annually for the next three years for small and rural community visitor centres as well as an innovation fund available in 2016 to assist communities with projects that help them adapt to the changing needs and expectations of visitors, including through the use of technology. Grand Forks will receive $10,000. Christina Lake will receive $23,731.

“Tourism is a key economic driver and job creator in British Columbia and helps keep our local communities strong, diverse and growing,” said Linda Larson, Boundary-Similkameen MLA, in the press release.

Dawsha Hunt, manager of the Grand Forks Visitor Centre, said they were relieved to receive the funding, which was not guaranteed.

“When Destination BC announced the change in their strategy for tourism in the province, funding was not guaranteed,” said Hunt. “We were hopeful but still holding our breath since last fall.”

Hunt said the three-year commitment allows the centre to plan their budget accordingly. “The money will be used to operate the centre with staffing and general expenses,” she said.

Hunt said the start of summer saw the centre shaping up well in terms of increased visitors. “Our stats were starting to show an increase as early as May but towards the end of August visitors were really affected by the fires and smoke,” she said.

Hunt said that centre staff worked hard to keep up with the most current information regarding road closures and fire danger. “The initial panic of road closures etc. on both sides of the border had us hopping to keep up with the most current information,” she said. “Thing were changing so fast and visitors were either already here or passing through and eager to get out of the danger zone. The misinformation on social media and widespread reporting by radio and TV was overwhelming and had a big effect on local tourism.”

Hunt said they had many cancellations for the municipal campground and Rock Candy Mine, which “most certainly had a trickle-down effect on the other local businesses too.”

She did say that September has been pretty busy. “We’ve had our normal busy shoulder season month to date. Seniors and many Europeans choose this month to travel the province while families are back to work or home with school-aged children.”

The staff at the Christina Lake Welcome Centre was thrilled to get $23,731 each year for the next three years.

“To have three years confirmed base funding was an absolute surprise for us,” said manager Cindy Alblas. “We were involved with the consultation process where the input was sought out from 20 different communities. We advised them at that time that their present fee for service model presented a challenge for us. So they must’ve heard us.”

Alblas said in previous years they only received funding for one year at a time.

“What the funding means for us is that we’ll have longer term certainty which allows for us to have more flexibility and innovation to be creative in our organization,” she said.

Alblas also said the money will also be used for staffing and rent. “This funding helps us to be vital in the community and be there for our visitors.”

Alblas said the welcome centre had a strong summer despite the fire danger and smoke towards the end of August.

“We had a fantastic centre at the Lake,” she said. “Tina’s Trading Post, our visitor information gift shop, introduced new branded clothing and various items this summer, which was a success for us. Many of our accommodators reported a great summer but, unfortunately, it did come to an abrupt halt with the fires.”

She said despite the smoke, many visitors still enjoyed their vacations knowing that the community and RDKB kept everyone up to date and well informed on the situation.

Alblas said the loss of tourists did hurt businesses but that tourism bounced back in September. “We are feeling visitors are still coming through now that the smoke has cleared. We’re seeing our European visitors and older travelers that we normally see in September.”

Alblas said the welcome centre ambassadors were the front lines of helping travelers find alternates roads and be updated with the fire and smoke conditions.