Tourism season expected to be good

  • May. 5, 2008 3:00 p.m.

It’s May, the weather’s trying to warm up and many islanders are just starting their busy season, as tourists from all over the world begin to head our way. And while there’s some worry about high gas prices and the problems in the US economy putting a bit of a damper on the season, most tourist operators we talked to expect a solid, good season ahead. But some are more optimistic than others. “I think its going to be an awesome year, I’m really positive about it. I think it will be good,” Laura Dutheil of Crystal Cabin Gallery in Tlell said. It’s her sixteenth season and she’s ready. “There’s always the typical gas increase but I’m not too worried. It’s definitely a destination for people now, I’m really optimistic about it all.” Her gallery’s mainstay is Haida art, and this year she has cooperated with the author of a book on new argillite carvers, soon to be out, and updated her advertising. “That’s something we are really looking forward to, bringing more interest in Haida art,” she said, “That’s exciting.” In Sandspit, Laura Pattison a partner in Moresby Explorers, which does tours in Gwaii Haanas, is also expecting a good year.”All our tours are booking right up, it looks like we’ll have a busy year again,” she said. “It’s actually looking like it will be quite a busy season. Of course, the weather hasn’t been quite as nice, we are hoping that it will shape up.” At the Visitor Centre in Queen Charlotte, Maureen Weddell told us they’ve had lots of enquiries from all over the world during the winter, and she is expecting a busy summer this year.”People really plan ahead,” she said, “we are not on the highway to anywhere, people are interested and I think we are on people’s radar screen. There a lots of places in the world that people can go. We are kind of on people’s lists, I think you can say that”. In Masset, Andrew Merilees, who administers several campgrounds for Old Massett Village Council, said a crew has been working at Agate Beach campground on North Beach, and that several improvements have been made to the shelter, tent pads and the information kiosk. As well, he says the Hiellen campground will open this season. It’s just across the Hiellen River, and has up to fifteen campsites. Mr. Merilees is also president of the Haida Gwaii Tourism Association, and says there’s lots of interest in the islands this year. He cited the opening of the Haida heritage Centre in Skidegate as well as the Edge of the World Music Festival for creating off-island interest. “We are always optimistic that it’s going to be a good season”, he said.Trevor Jarvis of the Village of Masset, which operates the info centre there, said the number of enquiries is running about the same as usual. The opening date for the centre has not been set yet, as there is some question about available funding. And he says the high price of gas may be a problem.Sarah Hillis of Sarah’s Haida Arts and Jewellery in Old Massett said there are a few people starting to come now.”I guess it depends on our weather and the ferry system,” she said, “if our wind is blowing like it is today.”She’s also worried about gas prices. “I have a feeling that the cost of gas is going to deter some people travelling here because it is getting kind of expensive to travel.” In Tlell, Ernie Burnett, who operates a wood carving studio there, said “Oh, I’m ready to roll. All we need is some tourists. I have lots more stock than I’ve had any previous season, mostly because it has been such a slow winter. I think everyone has been pretty slow this past winter” He said a lot of how the season goes will depend on “what this stupid weather does.””People want half decent weather when they are on holidays,” he said. He also is concerned about the delayed opening of the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate.”I think if the Heritage Centre had gone ahead, it would have made a big difference because that’s going to draw people from everywhere,” he said.Cacilia Honisch of Cacilia’s Bed and Breakfast in Tlell said bookings are “coming in, they are pretty good. I normally get more in the season anyhow, people that don’t have reservations”, she said, “People that camp, who may not get the weather they want. It’s looking pretty good so far.” She too is concerned about the late opening of the Heritage Centre”We don’t need this extra business in the main season,” she said, “earlier or later would have been better for people.” But she hasn’t heard any concern from the people who are booking with her about the price of gas. “Not the people that have phoned me,” she said, “I think the gas prices are high all over the place. Obviously, they don’t know that our prices are even higher than on the on mainland.””Yes, I’m ready. just keep them coming, Ms Honisch said. At Gwaii Haanas, Anna Gajda, Backcountry Management Coordinator, said “tour operators are booked up quite early compared to previous years. The majority I have spoken to are expecting to have a very good year.” She also said the park/heritage site had “a significant increase in our tour clients last year, so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues.” However, reservations for visiting Gwaii Haanas by individuals are lower than usual at this point. Deborah Marshall of BC Ferries in Victoria said Ferries is “getting excited to start our summer season.”The summer schedule for the Charlottes kicks off just over a month (June 12), with the usual six sailings per week from Prince Rupert. And bookings are solid, in fact well ahead of last year. Ms Marshall told us that as of May 1, there were 1,713 reservations on the Prince Rupert-Skidegate sailing. This compares with 1,572 at this time last year. As well, over 6,000 reservations are booked for Port Hardy-Rupert, almost 1,800 more than at this time in 2007. BC Ferries has recently attended several travel shows, and Ms Marshall says there has been lots of interest from Australia, the UK, Asia and Germany.”We are working quite hard to sell the northern routes,” she said, “With the new Haida cultural centre, there is a lot of interest in that. So we are getting a lot of really positive feedback.” Ms Marshall also thinks the problems in the US economy and the high gas prices are going to have a negative effect this year.

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