Tourism Tofino: Junction not viable for Tuff, too far

When news broke that the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce was considering opting out of its lease at the Pacific Rim Visitors Centre, some opined Tourism Tofino could potentially jump in.

Tourism Tofino’s general manager Kirsten Soder dispelled this notion and said Tourism Tofino is not in any position to be adding another visitor centre to its stable.

“This does not seem like a viable solution, it is simply too far away from our town centre to be convenient or efficient as our guests’ primary point of information,” she said.

“We are already running one full-time visitor centre in a community of 1,900 and added ChesterVan to alleviate seasonal pressures on businesses downtown and to accommodate foot traffic, so we just can’t justify a third.”

She said larger communities like Whistler and Victoria only operate one visitor centre and neither town runs a centre “30 minutes outside their town core,” and she added the PRVC’s monthly $1,700 rental cost is well beyond Tourism Tofino’s budget capabilities.

“Even when we had a secondary brick-andmortar location in downtown Tofino in 2010 and 2011, the rent was significantly lower than that,” she said.

Tourism Tofino benefits from a rent-free agreement at Cox Bay as the land the visitor centre sits on was donated by the Pettinger family.

“Although there are significant monthly costs to Tourism Tofino for the utilities, waste management, landscaping, building maintenance, and washroom supplies and cleaning, there is no actual rent or land lease paid to the District,” Soder said.

Soder said Tourism Tofino’s building-related operations and maintenance costs at Cox Bay total roughly $39,000 a year with ChesterVan costing about $7,000 for four months and it costs over $100,000 to staff both locations.

Tourism Tofino has traditionally provided a summer student to assist Ucluelet’s PRVC operation but this is not possible this year because of cuts to the Federal government’s summer student employment program, according to Soder.

In light of these cuts, Tourism Tofino will be reducing Chester-Van’s hours to the busiest times of day in order to keep the Cox Bay visitor centre’s services on par with past years.

During Ucluelet’s May 13 regular council meeting, councillor Randy Oliwa expressed frustration over what he perceives to be a lack of support from Tofino at the PRVC.

Soder said she respectfully disagrees with Oliwa’s assessment.

“All small businesses have to choose where their limited individual marketing dollars are invested,” she said noting Tourism Tofino encourages its members to purchase memberships at the PRVC.

“Our team does an excellent job of servicing potential, new, and returning visitors on-the-ground and online, with unbiased, regional, accurate and user-friendly information, so perhaps some of our members, many based in Ucluelet, just find the services we are providing enough for their individual situations.”

Oliwa also suggested Tourism Tofino has partnered with visitor centres across the Island while bypassing their own regional centre but Soder called this idea “unfounded and unproductive.”

“The one partnership we do have is in Port Alberni, one we first developed and proposed to the PRVC in 2013 but were turned down for,” she said.

Soder said Tourism Tofino would not be able to provide any additional financial support to the PRVC in the short term because of existing strategic plans and budgets.

“Tourism Tofino is already investing in two local visitor centres and supporting a suite of other visitor services that we feel are doing a great job meeting the needs of our stakeholders and visitors to the region, so it simply doesn’t warrant additional investment of external marketing dollars so close to home,” she said.

She spoke to meetings Tofino and Ucluelet have had regarding Tofino’s involvement at the PRVC and said the dialogue has been “respectful and productive” but discussions about increased investment from Tourism Tofino have been tabled until the new budgetary cycle.

“So 2015 at the earliest,” she said. Tofino and Ucluelet have clashed over the PRVC in the past and while Soder declined to speak to the specifics of the site’s history she suggested the communities may be at odds over funding discrepancies.

“I think the crux of the ongoing unresolved solution stems from the financial inequity between Tofino and Ucluelet, and how much each of our communities have to spend on these programs. In our case, we have more rooms, so we generate more hotel tax,” she said.

“But it is unfair to imply that ‘because Tofino has more, we should contribute more.’ We are already trying to position our brand to aggressively compete in target markets against other regions of the province with even more resources than we have, and who have no mandate at all to fund or deliver visitor services.”