Tourist season pretty good, say operators

  • Oct. 15, 2008 8:00 a.m.

By Heather Ramsay–There were ups and downs in the tourist season, but overall it was a good year, say operators. In fact, tourists were still on the islands through September said Maureen Weddell at the Queen Charlotte Visitor Centre, although many were disappointed that attractions like the islands’ museums and restaurants started closing on certain days of the week. “It was a bit early for people that were still travelling,” she said. August was the busiest month at the centre with more than 4,700 people coming through the doors. In July, the stats show just over 2,500 people accessed the centre and in June there were 1,500. Fifteen thousand have been in since January 2008. Keep in mind, says Ms Weddell, the numbers are only those who came in to the centre and some people may even have been counted several times. “It’s not scientific, but it’s a snapshot,” she says. According to comments from people in the centre the weather and fuel prices had a factor in how long people stayed. “Some people left early because it was too wet for them here,” she said. “Others couldn’t find accommodation and had to keep moving places.” Having enough beds to accommodate visitors in peak periods is a challenge because places are often empty in the off-season, Ms Weddell noted. “It’s a short but intense tourist season,” she says. For some, like the Dixon Entrance Museum in Masset, visitor numbers were up over last year. Treasurer Jack Thorgeirson reports more than 1,700 visitors between May and September of 2008, but only 1,400 in the same period of 2007. But Gwaii Haanas reported a downturn in visitors. Between independent travellers, guided day trips and overnight trips, 2,040 entered the Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site this year. Last year 200 more visited, says communications mangager Drue Kendrick. Bonnie Stevens of Gerry’s Fishing Charters in Masset said the fishing season started off slow, but turned out to be good in the end. They weren’t as busy as they were last year, but between the fishing which is popular with groups of men and house rentals which are great for families who want to tour around and go crabbing and such, they had a good season. Laura Pattison from Moresby Explorers in Sandspit said they haven’t crunched the numbers yet, but it looks like it was a slightly busier season than last year. She said their new float camp in Crescent Inlet was a hit. “It’s bigger, roomier and more comfy than the last one. It’s a nice place to take people.” She says more and more people are taking the overnight tours and in the future they’d like to focus more on that, but the majority are daytrippers. Most of their visitors come from Canada, including lots from BC, she said, but they also see a lot of Japanese and Europeans. A scattering of locals come with them into the park. Spring was a highlight for her as they had quite a few early season trips and saw many humpback whales this year and by the beginning of October they still had a few day trips going out. At the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate, numbers were down in July and September, but they spiked in August with the grand opening ceremonies. Operations manager Jason Alsop says it was hard to know which days would be busy. But the highest use day was the ugliest day of the year. “No one could go out fishing so we’re the alternative.” He said staff kept a loose tally on how people heard of the centre and found that word of mouth or previous visits to the islands were what brought most people in. “Some had been here some time in the past, like 15 years ago, or for the pole raising or they saw the centre in different stages and came back to see the finished product,” he says. Mr. Alsop says things started ramping up in May with four summer front-end staff added and another four in landscaping and maintenance. This summer the staff used the Haida language more during tours, said Mr. Alsop, adding a Haida greeting and using Haida names. They also enhanced the performing house space with recorded SHIP stories playing, along with Haida song recordings. Mr. Alsop says many of the summer visitors were from Ontario and other places in BC. He also saw an increase in tour groups this year. “These groups are realizing the value of the centre in giving cultural background before visitors go into the park,” he says. He’s excited about the possibilities future temporary exhibits at the museum will bring to the centre. “We want to do more events and use the temporary exhibit system and have activities around that,” he says. The more cultural activities happening in the summer, the better according to the QC VIC. Ms Weddell has noticed people come for a couple of different reasons – they’re either here to experience Haida culture or the outdoors. She says some visitors have the perception that they can just go to a feast, see dancing or carving on any given day of the week. Although many opportunities take place in the summer months, “sometimes they are disappointed,” she says. Other visitors come ill-informed about Gwaii Haanas. Tourism BC is advertising the area like crazy, she says. “But some don’t realize it costs a lot of money to go there or that it is not accessible except by water or air.” These people are astounded the World Heritage Site totem poles they’ve seen in pictures (at SGang Gwaay) are a two and a half day boat trip away. Others think there will be lots of services and different trips they can do in a day, as there is in places like Tofino. Some want to be entertained and others want to experience whatever happens, says Weddell. She says people often show up with no accommodation booked nor car rentals in place and then find out there is little on-island transportation available. “You can really enjoy yourself, but it depends on your personality. Most people find things to do.” She said many tourism operators have already had calls for next year and the Visitor Information Centre works hard to stay open all year round, not only to help tourists who come in the off-season, but to send out information to those planning trips.

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