Visitors centre funding in danger of drying up, council wants UBCM help

Dismayed by the news that the provincial government has decided to focus more of its tourist funding on the Internet, Coun. Kate Marsh wants the muscle of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to help secure permanent funding for the Cowichan visitors centre.

But councillors are going to wait to vote on her idea because they want even stronger wording.

Marsh and the rest of council heard earlier this spring that funding for the new visitors centre on the Trans Canada Highway is seriously hit by provincial cuts. Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce president Julie Scurr told them that Destination BC – a provincial marketing initiative – had been contributing $12,500 towards the tourist centre and the Chamber had been confidently expecting that increased numbers of visitors would see that funding increase to $20,000 annually since the handout is based visitor tallies.

However, she said told councillors in March, “we’ve been told not to expect any funding after this year from Destination BC,” Scurr said, adding that the freeze will affect all tourist centres in the province, not just the Cowichan Valley’s facility.

That money was one of the foundation planks on which the info centre had built its ongoing future and the announcement came as a shock to councillors.

Marsh argued at the June 3 council meeting that the Internet is fine but on-the-ground info centres still play a vital role in boosting tourism.

“Research shows visitors who have personal contact stay longer,” she said. “And we know with the change to their funding, our visitors centre may have trouble keeping its doors open seven days a week.” She asked that council bring up the subject at the Union of BC Municipalities’ convention, calling for “stable funding”.

Coun. Al Siebring offered kudos to Marsh for her idea.

“But I don’t it’s strong enough,” he said. “I recommend we rewrite this and make it stronger.”

He even suggested that the province’s setting the funding at zero could be called “stable” and urged her to beef up the wording.

The rest of council agreed with Siebring. The issue is likely to return to the council table soon.

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