The tourism sector is expecting modest growth in the next five to 10 years, according to Calum Matthews, a community and industry specialist with Tourism Vancouver Island.
“Right now, the low Canadian dollar is important. Tourists like our low dollar,” he told Lake Cowichan town council last month.
However, there are many other factors affecting the industry.
“The tourism industry has an acute shortage of staff, which often means they run less often than they could,” he said, adding that in many areas, the availability of affordable housing is a factor in that.
However, to boost the Island’s tourism product it’s essential that communities work together in their approach because tourists may not focus on a single area.
“People load up the mini-van and explore,” Matthews said.
Shelley Knott, executive director of Tourism Cowichan, also addressed council at the same meeting, saying Tourism Cowichan has been busy promoting the area on social media, and with programs like Eat, Save, Play.
“We’re really excited about the upcoming year,” she said. “We’re looking for more destination marketing.”
Coun. Tim McGonigle said, “We are positioned well to work with other tourist areas because we’re connected to them by the Pacific Marine Circle Route.”
“It’s a unique asset for the area, that’s for sure,” he said.
Knott added that Victoria, Sooke, and Sidney are also working on the idea of connecting up the parts of southern Vancouver Island.
“I think that’s the best place for it to reside: with the tourism entities, not this table,” McGonigle said.
Mayor Ross Forrest asked if anything was being considered in the area of tourist accommodation.
“The Cowichan Valley lacks beds,” he said. “Is that holding us back?”
Knott said, “That comes up often. We are working closely with economic development people but the Cowichan Valley is full from summer to fall.”
Forrest then asked if anyone was looking at employing seniors in the tourist industry, if it was hard to get workers.
Matthews said, “That is starting to happen. Businesses are hiring several part-time seniors instead of a single full-time person. That’s a best practice scenario; it could be huge.”
He also suggested that foreign workers might be brought in to fill those jobs.
Coun. Bob Day asked how much money could possibly be spent on looking for more tourist services, like washrooms, on the Pacific Marine Circle Route and Matthews said those changes would likely be driven by the number of people using the route.