A local tourism operator who has gone out of business thinks city hall hasn’t done a good job with how it handles tourism.
Port Alberni resident Sandy McRuer, who operated Rainbird Excursions for six years, took aim at the city at Monday’s council meeting, saying the city should be attracting visitors and permanent residents, McRuer said. “In this respect, the city has failed,” he said.
The city’s responsibility for tourism includes attracting visitors and permanent residents yet doing so isn’t a high priority backed with money, he said—something that isn’t congruent with elsewhere on the Island, McRuer said.
“Other cities in our region…help fund the external marketing organizations (but) the city subsidizes tourism attractions like McLean Mill,” he said.
The city helps underwrite the visitor centre, “But these funds aren’t attracting people to the town,” McRuer said. “These people have already arrived. The visitor information centre is merely directing traffic.”
The city hasn’t grown in 20 years and it retains some of the lowest housing prices on the Island. The retirement population is growing every year and is a driver of economies from Courtenay to Nanaimo, he said.
Despite this, Alberni’s website doesn’t mention any of the infrastructure in the Alberni Valley that would be attractive to seniors, or would capture long-stay visitors.
The Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and Alberni Valley Tourism don’t collect comprehensive enough data to get any more than a thumbnail glance at who visitors are, McRuer said.
Room revenue stats are collected, “but they miss all the B&Bs and campgrounds,” he said.
And while the visitor’s centre collects its own data it is part of a provincial stats package and for funding purposes,” McRuer said.
“This gives the impression that tourism is thriving in the Valley.
However, they are misleading in that many of the visitors aren’t stopping, but going on to the west coast of the Island,” he said.
It’s not as though the city doesn’t have the resources to do a better job of tourism. “But we are spending $850,000 on average per year between the mill, the museum and on heritage,” McRuer said. The city has gone over budget on this nine times over seven years for a total of $1 million.
“I think city council needs to recognize its role in promoting and supporting tourism in this community and do so within the context of the Vancouver Island brand,” McRuer said.
Coun. Jack McLeman asked how McRuer attracted customers to his business. McRuer replied that they came mostly through his website, now taken down. He received no referrals from the visitors centre and few from hotels, although he referred many customers to hotels, he said.