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Behest of the West: Tourism is growing while our population growth is slowing

New locals are wrestling their way in, but not at the rate you might think if you’re looking out your window in August.
Tofino is welcoming more visitors than ever before

Happy belated Darwin Day West Coast.

We celebrated the mind behind the theory of evolution on Feb. 12; it was Charles Darwin 208th birthday.

Our peninsula’s natural playground keeps us relatively fit and we’re all blessed to be surviving in these surroundings. Feel fortunate. The opportunity to live here is a hard score.

Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ refrain isn’t as simple as it sounds. It doesn’t directly translate to those with the best abs living the longest.

There’s an important piece around environment and adaptability that’s often overlooked and I’m worried we might be adapting our own environment to make it more fitting for another species.

Our tourism numbers continue to skyrocket. It seems every season is recorded as the best season yet. That’s a good thing and we’re grateful to our hardworking destination marketing organizations for providing a steady stream of tourists who give their money to us.

Our population growth though, is pretty humdrum.

New locals are wrestling their way in, but not at the rate you might think if you’re looking out your window in August.

Tofino’s population is up to 1,932, according to the recently released 2016 census results. That’s a roughly 3 per cent increase since 2011’s census counted 1,877 locals. Ucluelet grew a little more than that with 1,717 locals counted in 2016, a 5.5 per cent increase from the 1,627 who lived here in 2011.

Both of those growth rates fall below the province’s, though Ukee missed it by a hair. B.C.’s population rose by 5.6 per cent.

While our respective population growths put Tofino and Ucluelet squarely in the middle of Vancouver  Island’s pack, where no alarm bells are ringing, we should be concerned about the direction our available housing is going, particularly in Tofino.

Ucluelet’s doing alright with 737 of its 841 private dwellings occupied full-time; good for 87 per cent. That’s close to the province’s mark of 91 per cent with 1,881,969 of B.C.’s 2,063,417 homes occupied full-time and it’s bang-on where Ucluelet was at in 2011 when its census results showed 814 dwellings, of which 711—87 per cent—were lived in full-time.

Tofino isn’t sitting so pretty at 72 per cent; 755 of its 1,037 dwellings are resided in year-round. That’s a 2 per cent drop from 2011’s results that showed 1,033 dwellings and 765 lived in full time. More people living in less houses is likely a sign of Tofino’s reproductive prowess and that should be celebrated, but why did the number of dwellings increase by only four in five years?

It’s important to note that, between 2006-2011, Tofino’s population skyrocketed by 13.4 per cent and Ucluelet’s by 9.4 per cent. That growth is slowing as fast as our tourism seasons are growing.

There are a handful of housing projects crowning the horizon, but those are tough to be excited about because of the perpetual fact that, when ‘For-Sale’ signs go up, investors and part-time locals are the ones throwing the ‘Sold’ stickers around.

It’s wonderful to see them so awe-struck by our surroundings that they want to invest in our paradise, but we can’t compete with the dollars they’ve raked in from their lands of opportunity. This isn’t an employment-rich landscape. Outsiders have more money to spend.

The money our DMO’s are throwing at attracting visitors here and the RMI funds our councils are spending on tourist-friendly projects aren’t our dollars. DMO’s are sourced by a tax baked into our tourists’ hotel rooms and RMI is a gift from the province to thank us for attracting visitors this way.

It’s coming from them, not us, so we can’t be too furious to see it spent on them and not us. Gosh though, it’s sure hard to stomach watching all that cash thrown at beautifying amenities while we watch locals struggle to find shelter.

Property-tax-free presents like the National Park’s $17 million trail are graciously accepted, but we can’t let shiny tourism infrastructure distract us from the local infrastructure we need.

Our tourism population is growing faster than our local one. In the world we’re building, we’re not the fittest.


Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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