Tourism Tofino was the big winner at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards presentation as the destination marketing organization’s Cox Bay Visitor Centre was crowned Best Institutional Building and also received the Judges Choice Award.
“Building this Centre was a long-term dream, and vision, of the local tourism industry” Tourism Tofino chair Shane Richards said through a media release. “We are thrilled to receive these accolades and are grateful to everyone responsible for this acknowledgement, including the Tourism Tofino Board of Directors and staff, our MRDT-collecting accommodation businesses, the District of Tofino, Destination British Columbia, the Province of British Columbia and MKM Projects Ltd.”
The $2 million centre was paid for with funds from the community’s Municipal and Regional District Tax coffers—formally known as the additional hotel room tax—and made possible by Tofino increasing its MRDT from 2 per cent to 3 per cent.
The new centre officially opened in June, 2019, and Tourism Tofino’s executive director Nancy Cameron told the Westerly News it became an immediately effective magnet for tourists, drawing in a 57 per cent increase in visitors in its first six months of operation.
“That means that we had 57 per cent more interactions with more visitors and were able to influence them to explore more and spend more and that results in memory creation and word-of-mouth advertising that supports the whole industry,” Cameron said. “You need a building that attracts visitors to it and when we get more visitors in the building we have an opportunity to show them more and they learn more about the destination…That entices them and excites them about doing more, going on more excursions, seeing more, getting out further in the destination and exploring and that results in visitors spending at our businesses.”
She added that while travellers have an abundance of information available to them through the Internet, visitor centres still play a key role in providing “inside information.”
“This centre now acts as a very welcoming front door for Tofino where our guests are inspired. They’re inspired to learn more about the area’s culture, heritage and activities, landscape, our values about sustainability and protecting the natural surroundings and the leave-no-trace travel. They learn a lot when they come into this centre,” she said. “The centre represents the quality experiences offered here now and it syncs with the product.”
She added that Tourism Tofino’s team is vital to the process of helping visitors enjoy their stay and inspiring them to return.
“Tourism is based in hospitality, it’s based in welcoming people to your destination, being proud of your destination and wanting to showcase your destination, knowing that visitors will go away learning more and appreciating this place that they’ve just visited,” she said. “Hospitality is key. Having staff that provide that warm welcome.”
She said that warm welcome was particularly important this year, as the coronavirus pandemic harpooned tourism opportunities through the spring and early summer and left potential travellers unsure when they could return to Tofino.
“Having a great staff, and we do have rockstars as a team, is really, really important. It’s personal connections and personal relationships,” she said. “It was critical this year. Our phone and email inquiries were up 160 per cent this year and it was people asking, ‘Can we come’ and asking about whether they’d be welcome and what was open. Things were moving so quickly and things were changing so quickly this year that our team had to be on top of everything. It was very, very important this year and our team played a really critical role in educating visitors about what to expect and how to be here in Tofino.”
She added that the centre’s VIREB success is a reflection of tremendous collaboration.
“The recognition is shared. This was a massive project for the Tourism Tofino organization, but it was a big project for the whole community, so we want to make sure we acknowledge everybody that had a hand in making this a success,” she said.