Serendipitous sunshine glowed through the large windows of Tofino’s new Cox Bay Visitor Centre, helping the new $2 million building shine in its debut as the town gathered to celebrate the official opening on June 26.
“We were on time and on budget,” beamed Tourism Tofino chair Shane Richards from a podium set up in a corner of the new 1,400 sq. ft. tourist-educating space. He credited the “excellent project planning” of Parksville’s MKM Projects Ltd. for their constructive collaboration.
The town’s destination marketing organization Tourism Tofino announced its intention to replace its Cox Bay centre in 2016 and received approval from Tofino’s accommodation providers to increase Tofino’s additional hotel room tax—now called the Municipal, Regional, District Tax—from 2 per cent to 3 per cent to pay for a replacement.
“One that would inspire our guests to do more, to stay longer, to return, and one that would reflect our whole community,” Richards said. “We now have this beautiful visitor centre, but it would not have been a reality without some spectacular efforts by standout volunteers and staff to get the approvals required to make this building a reality.”
READ MORE: Tourism Tofino aims for new visitor centre
He thanked Tourism Tofino’s former executive director Kirsten Soder for starting the process and current executive director Nancy Cameron for “pushing the proverbial ball up the mountain.”
He added Tourism Tofino’s past chairs JJ Belanger and Charles McDiarmid played key roles in convincing local accommodation providers to agree to the tax increase.
“These two men worked tirelessly to reach agreements with the District of Tofino, the Chamber of Commerce, the Ministry of Finance and Destination BC. They also played an integral role in lobbying tax collecting properties to increase the MRDT from 2 per cent to 3 per cent,” he said.
He said the building is now complete, save for some additional landscaping yet to be done as well as artwork en route, including three hand-painted surfboards—one by local artist Mark Hobson.
He pointed to a large hand-carved dugout canoe hanging from the ceiling that was created by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation councillor Joe Martin.
“We look forward to a lifetime of guests enquiring about its origins and learning more about your history in the area,” he said to Martin.
Martin had opened the ceremony by welcoming the audience to Tla-o-qui-aht territory with a wolf chant to symbolize communities working together “because wolves look after each other in packs.”
“That’s a canoe that’s really hard to improve upon. The design that people had here and evolved for thousands of years for the many different moods of the Pacific Ocean,” Martin said adding he was happy to see strong collaboration create the “beautiful” building.
“We can learn from each other and I’m very happy today because we’re moving forward on a very good note,” he said.
Richards said Tourism Tofino plans to work with Tla-o-qui-aht to further infuse the Nation’s language and heritage into the space
“It has been truly phenomenal to see these doors open and we are very proud of our visitor service team greeting people and servicing our guests. We are very proud to present this building to you today and to the community of Tofino,” he said.
Destination BC CEO Marsha Walden traveled from Vancouver to attend the grand opening event and said she was stunned to see the completed building for the first time, calling it “an iconic West Coast building…situated in what is truly an iconic Canadian setting, one of the best places in Canada for visitors and for residents.”
She said visitor centres are vital to ensuring visitors are able to enjoy the full slate of experiences a town has to offer.
“They’re so instrumental is making sure that B.C. maintains its rank as one of the top destinations in the world,” she said.
“For those of you that work in visitor centres, both locally here and across our province, you truly are the ones that make a lasting impression on our guests. With the tens of thousands of visitors that I know are going to enter these doors over these next few months in particular, the amount of inputs that you have on the guest experience is really immense and I hope you appreciate and recognize the differences you’re making everyday.”
She added effective visitor services leads to valuable stories being told by tourists back home.
“They make decisions to stay longer, to see and do more and ultimately to spend more money in your community,” she said. “It’s that spirit of hospitality that the Tofino residents and community bring to the guest experience that ultimately ignites that oh so very powerful word of mouth in marketing.”
Coun. Britt Chalmers congratulated Tourism Tofino on behalf of the town’s municipal council.
“You’ve created a facility this town can be proud of and is a great place to welcome visitors,” she said. “This is such a benefit for our community. It’s an example of how the tourism industry not only can but currently is supporting the infrastructure needs created by tourists.”
Tourism Tofino’s executive director Nancy Cameron said the new centre will help inspire guests to “see and do more” while visiting the area.
“This results in our guests spending more with our local businesses and, in turn, having more memorable and deeper experiences and those experiences are those that they will recommend to others,” she said.
She said a touch-screen interpretive program will be installed “that will speak to the history, the geography, the culture, the wildlife, and the ecosystems,” in an effort to turn tourists into better stewards of the environment.
“We’ll also take on a greater role in educating our guests about how to interact within this environmentally sensitive place and encourage them to take care of it by participating in some fun activities like beach cleanups,” she said.
She added the Tofino branded merchandise on offer at the centre is designed to lead to lifestyle changes with reusable items like bamboo utensils and toothbrushes, glass straws and microfiber-free clothing.
Though the centre is now complete, Tofino’s Municipal, Regional, District Tax will remain at 3 per cent at least until Tourism Tofino submits a new five year financial plan in 2022, according to Cameron.
READ MORE: Tourism Tofino splits from Chamber