Rivercorp, the economic development body for Campbell River, hosted a well attended gathering at the Maritime Heritage Centre on January 28, bringing together community stakeholders from various arts and cultural organizations and businesses to discuss short term goals and recommendations for expanding cultural tourism in the region. The meeting and workshop were organized by Brad Bradbury, CEO of Rivercorp, and facilitated by Bruce White, the Cultural Tourism Advisor from BC’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts.
White started off the meeting with a discussion of cultural tourism, defined as “travel to experience the authentic cultural identity of BC’s people, places and activities.” He acknowledged that the Campbell River region has had a long history of tourism, going back to its days at the turn of the 20th century as a sports fishing mecca. However, since sports fishing is no longer the major attraction to the region, and the City recently experienced a major loss of economic revenue with the closure of the Catalyst Mill, the region was going to have to find ways to strengthen its economy and its touristic appeal. In British Columbia, tourism is considered to be on par with forestry in terms of importance to local economies and the Campbell River region is well situated to exploit its rich cultural heritage as a draw to visitors.
He encouraged attendees to consider the needs of the traveller, which consists of providing a safe and secure environment, while offering many things to see and do. Attendees were divided into four groups and asked to brainstorm ideas that could result in the Campbell River obtaining a stronger identity as a cultural destination – such as new or bigger events initiated by the arts, heritage and First Nations sectors of the tourism industry.
Rhonda Harper, manager of the Visitor Information Centre in Campbell River, was among the attendees. “I love the excitement and the positive energy coming from all different sectors”, she said. Rhonda has seen consistent numbers of visitors coming to the area, despite dire predictions for 2009, but feels that Campbell River has a huge untapped potential and needs to look for ways to make it easier for visitors to get around the city. Signage was identified as one of the most important areas needing improvement, as the Inland Highway in particular causes travellers to pass by the city on their way to northern destinations on the island, without finding the visitor information situated in the city centre or finding out about the city’s major attractions.
Other recommendations included identifying Campbell River as a waterfront city, with more activity taking place in parks along the waterfront and at the new Spirit Square in the centre of town. Most participants were in agreement that the old moniker of “Salmon Capital of the World” is clearly outdated, and that other more relevant assets of the region should be promoted like readily available fresh seafood and distinctive local wines, and wildlife viewing.
“I think that the workshop is very timely for Campbell River and its social, cultural and economic development”, commented Ken Blackburn, Executive Director of the Campbell River Arts Council. “Cultural tourism has the potential to have a great impact on our community and in our province. Campbell River is well situated to take advantage of new opportunities.”
The Arts Council, Campbell River Art Gallery and Museum at Campbell River for example, would like to see a more coordinated marketing effort being made through a specific cultural tourism brochure and website.
Tom Sewid of Discovery Marine Safaris identified the region as being on ‘the fringe of the frontier that makes up beautiful BC’. In his 25 plus years as an aboriginal wildlife and tourism guide, Sewid has seen a significant growth in aboriginal cultural tourism and plans to expand on the concept of giving tourists an authentic experience, like canoeing and barbequing salmon in the traditional First Nations manner. “I dress like an Indian nine months out of the year”, he said, “that’s what people want.”
Two more workshops are to follow, and Rivercorp and the Ministry expect to have recommendations in place by March 30th of this year, with hopes of implementing some of these new ideas before the summer tourist season starts. If this past meeting was any indication of the dedication and enthusiasm shown by participants in finding solutions, then it is quite possible that they will meet their goal.