A group of about twenty islanders held a round-table discussion about tourism Saturday in Queen Charlotte. The meeting was organized by the Friends of the QC Visitor Information Centre to celebrate the successes and look at the challenges of the 2004 season.
It got underway with VIC manager Carolyn Heseltine saying the biggest success of the summer was the weather. She also noted the number of visitors from western Canada was higher than in past years, but the number coming from the US, Asia and Europe dropped. “People were much more flexible,” Ms Heseltine said, “they were willing to stay longer, more people arrived with no return reservations.” She also said the centre stayed open through September this year, and saw an extra 3,000 people that month.
Cliff Bell-Brown from Port Clements asked about the number of accommodations available to tourists, saying that Masset was full at some points during the summer.
Gilbert Parnell of Skidegate said he wanted to share the perspective on tourism of the Haida people, noting that they will be playing a stronger role in the future, with the opening of the heritage centre, now under construction in Skidegate. “We very much want to become more progressive in terms of marketing,” he said, adding that it all needs to be done in a sustainable way.
Barb Rowsell of the Friends of the QC Visitor Centre asked what the centre could do to improve, and Maggie Bell Brown of the QCI Chamber of Commerce said it was already being very helpful.
Mavis Mark of Queen Charlotte was concerned about problems involved in increasing the number of visitors, since the number of flights and ferry sailings to the islands is limited, but Ms Rowsell noted that since we have had a number of airlines try the route without success, when there are enough people wanting to come here, that shouldn’t be a problem. “Get more demand,” she said, “the airlines will appear.”
Cliff Bell Brown offered his thoughts on eco-tourism, saying it should fit in and not control or be exploitive. “What we need is a shift in attitude,” he said.
Masset’s Tanis Falkenberg said she would like to see the Haida in a more prominent position, and that tourists from Europe want to see and hear about Haida culture. “There’s just a lot the Haida have to offer,” she said “it’s very exciting”. She also said she is opposed to billboards, after living in the Yukon where they spoiled the views.
Kate Alexander of Parks Canada commented that there are no high-end restaurants in Queen Charlotte, no special occasion place, and this might possibly be a business opportunity. She also said the visitor centre is marvelous and worth being a tourist site on its own. She asked if it could advertise itself as worth a visit, to which Barb Rowsell replied “if you give us the money”. Parks Canada funds the centre.
There was a discussion of trails, with Gilbert Parnell suggesting perhaps a heritage trust is needed to maintain and develop them. He also suggested a visitor tax to help fund tourism infrastructure.
Carloyn Heseltine noted that the connection board at the visitor centre had been quite a success this year, with visitors looking for a charter connecting with others to make up the required minimum number.
The meeting ended with a round of applause for Ms Heseltine and her work at the centre and a draw for a number of door prizes.
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