Ucluelet is hosting the largest Tourism Vancouver Island conference in history right now.
Over 175 delegates representing the Island’s tourism gamut from accommodations to restaurants to experience providers have descended on Ucluelet to network, collaborate and experience what the town has to offer from Oct. 4-6.
“This is a record breaking year,” TVI’s trade and media specialist Heather McEachen told the Westerly News.
“This is the most registrations we’ve ever had for any of our Tourism Vancouver Island conferences so we’re very excited.”
She said Ucluelet has not hosted a Tourism Vancouver Island conference in recent memory but put forward an attractive proposal to cement itself as the perfect host community this year.
“They put in an amazing bid, leading with the Black Rock Resort which is a top notch phenomenal hotel and the community centre being able to accommodate all the people that we have attending,” McEachen said adding Tourism Ucluelet was solid to work with.
“Their excitement and their passion and how eager they are to showcase that destination also helped seal the bid.”
She said networking is the biggest draw for the conference as various stakeholders collaborate, learn from each other and create partnerships.
She said it’s important for the Island’s destinations to collaborate and market in unison as teammates rather than opponents jockeying for tourism numbers.
“It’s always about working together as a destination,” she said. “We’re competing a little bit against each other but i think it’s more important that we work within each other to really support it overall.”
Tuesday night saw a welcome reception hosted by Black Rock Resort and Wednesday’s itinerary included several key speakers and conversations around the issues facing tourism.
She said finding and keeping staff is a key issue facing the industry as well as maintaining unified messaging that creates consistent stories for tourists to share about their Island experiences.
“One thing that’s so great about Vancouver Island is that we have so many distinct activities that you can only do on Vancouver Island,” she said citing surfing and wildlife watching as unique local draws.
“Picking up on those things that you can do in your area that you can’t do in other destinations and that’s how you make yourself stand out.”
She said conversations would also include strategies around convincing visitors to plan ahead rather than trying to score a hotel room at the last minute, a feat no longer possible in Ucluelet or neighbouring Tofino.
The conference’s delegates are also expected to take in the opportunities Ucluelet offers, like paddleboarding, foraging and hiking and McEachen said experiencing Ucluelet’s wares would help out- of-town stakeholders tout the Ucluelet experience to their clients.
“You hear about Tofino quite often, but who knows about the Raven Lady in Ucluelet? Who knows about the amazing Zoe’s Cafe, which is one of my favourite places?” she said.
“These are the things that you get to show off that other destinations don’t have so it’s getting people in the tourism industry excited about all your fun things that you can do that people don’t even know about. I think that’s the best thing about having this conference here.”
Tourism Ucluelet’s executive director Denise Stys-Norman told the Westerly the conference presents an opportunity to show off Ucluelet’s friendly and inviting community.
“It shows everybody why this area is so special and why it’s such a pleasure to come out here,” she said.
“It gives us the opportunity to showcase why Ucluelet is a special community.”
She said draws like the Ucluelet Aquarium and Wild Pacific Trail show that tourism opportunities can not only be environmentally sustainable, but increase environmental stewardship.
“The theme of the conference is ‘building sustainable legacies’ and, I think, part of that is to really show that a community can gracefully change from one industry to another and still maintain its integrity and work towards preserving its environment,” she said.
“It can show that, even in a small community, we’re still able to have amazing facilities in the area and be respectful of our surroundings and that’s part of what makes it really special.”
She said Ucluelet has a unique role to play within Vancouver Island’s ensemble cast of environmentally-minded coastal communities.
“Each specific community brings a different diversity of what you’re experiencing. Ucluelet really is that raw, rugged West Coast and, when you come here, it really lends itself to feeling like you are on the edge of Canada,” she said.
“It’s one of those really unique, special places that gives you that raw, rugged natural experience you’re looking for while still having the opportunity to go back and relax in a comfortable setting that makes you feel welcome.”
She added Ucluelet’s friendly local population has buoyed Ucluelet’s reputation as an attractive destination.
“We are a friendly community and that’s what a lot of people have been saying when they come out here. They really appreciate how friendly and warm our community is,” she said.
“The one thing that our community does phenomenally well is it supports events and activities that go on in the area and it really showcases how friendly and welcoming we are…That is a resounding comment that we here time and time again.”