The opening of Tofino’s new $2-million visitor centre at Cox Bay has Ucluelet’s mayor Mayco Noel eyeing changes to the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre, particularly how much Tofino is being promoted there.
Noel told the Westerly News that the new Cox Bay centre was “the final nail in the coffin,” for Ucluelet’s long-held hopes that Tofino would eventually financially contribute to the PRVC, which is operated by Tourism Ucluelet in partnership with Parks Canada.
“There is no Tofino representative, nor is there any Tofino financial contribution,” Noel said. “This has been going on for probably five or six years and it wasn’t that we were trying to cash grab, it’s simply just trying to acknowledge the fact that it is a station that feeds the region.”
Tofino businesses are able to showcase their services with promotional materials at the PRVC through a racking and marketing program, but Noel believes there may be too much Tofino promotion occurring at the site.
“Tourism Ucluelet is kind of caught in the middle where they’re just trying to maintain a relationship with Tourism Tofino, which I totally agree with. But, on a political stance for myself, I think it’s been really disappointing that Tofino hasn’t been able to contribute to it. So, it’s really forced our hand to look at the visitor information, in particular, at the junction property a little bit different,” he said.
“It doesn’t fit into Tourism Tofino’s or the District of Tofino’s budget or vision, which is totally fair and I think that the next step for us is to take a look at what kind of visual aids we want to do. For myself, I think it would be nice to see more of just the southern end of the peninsula be represented.”
He suggested the PRVC has continued promoting Tofino despite the lack of funding assistance.
“That’s just us being gentlemanly, to be honest with you. There’s some of us that think that should have been taken down two years ago. You should see no Tofino there. I think we’re being the grown up in the relationship and allowing a little bit of signage and some acknowledgement that Tofino does exist, without any contribution from them,” he said. “To me it’s been long enough. They’re investing a couple million dollars into their new visitor information [centre]. I’m pretty sure that you won’t see any Ucluelet signage in that building and I’m pretty sure that they haven’t reached out to us on a political level. I think we’ve been more than respectful.”
He said Ucluelet will work with its First Nations neighbours to plan out how the south-side of the Coast can be best represented.
“I don’t think we’ve really gone that avenue. We continue hoping Tofino’s going to ante up and they’re not. So, now, it’s not a monetary thing for me, it’s more about a matter of principle and I think we need to revamp how that’s all going to look,” he said.
Ucluelet’s council publicly voiced concern over Tofino’s lack of financial involvement at the PRVC in 2014, prompting Tofino mayor Josie Osborne to call for a meeting between Tofino and Ucluelet’s councils and tourism stakeholders to discuss how Tofino could participate at the junction property.
Osborne told the Westerly last week that at least two meetings took place in 2015, but no agreements were reached.
“There were a lot of discussions around membership models and financial models and we tried our best to come to some kind of arrangement where there could be an understanding of how certain costs could be shared and how staffing could be shared, but we never came to a concrete solution,” she said. “In my opinion, the membership models and the way the two centres in Tofino and Ucluelet were being run were quite different from each other and we just were never able to find a happy medium for the PRVC.”
She said that while the two sides were unable to reach an agreement, Tofino businesses were able to “pay to play, so to speak” and have their promotional materials presented at the PRVC for a cost.
“At the end of the day, everybody always agreed that we will give the best service to our visitors on both ends of the peninsula by answering their questions about each community,” she said.
She added that Tourism Tofino and Tourism Ucluelet have an “excellent working relationship” and most visitors do not differentiate between the two towns.
“They’ve come out to the Pacific Rim, they’ve come out to Long Beach, they love this place, they sleep in one place, they visit another. The better time they have in either community, the more likely they are to return,” she said.
She said any conversations around revisiting Tofino’s participation at the PRVC would be up to Tourism Tofino.
Tourism Tofino’s executive director Nancy Cameron told the Westerly that she has not had talks with Ucluelet about the PRVC since she joined the destination marketing organization in 2017.
“We are currently focused on our own centre,” she said.
Ucluelet purchased the land at the junction in 2004 and Parks Canada moved its nearby visitor centre building onto the site as part of a partnership the two parties signed in February of that year.
At an event held to celebrate the agreement, Ucluelet’s then-mayor Dianne St. Jacques said it would serve as a regional centre.
“It’s key to us that everyone is involved,” St. Jacques was quoted as saying in a Feb. 11, 2004, Westerly News story. Then Tofino mayor Al Anderson attended the event and signed as an official witness to the agreement between Ucluelet and Parks Canada, but Tofino was not financially involved out of the gate.