Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get on the Train!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop hosted by the Island Corridor Foundation titled "Get on the Train". The event was designed to review a recent baseline investigation on the rail based tourism opportunities in the region and to explore additional opportunities for product development, service integration and business opportunities.

I was asked to participate in the afternoon session as one of the dragons in the "Dragon's Den" activity along with Don Barrie (Tourism Cowichan), Neil Malbon (Alerni Valley Tourism), Mark Drysdale (Tourism Nanaimo) and Heather Maycock (Tourism Vancouver Island). Together, we asked questions and provided constructive criticism for new tourism/rail related business ventures that were designed by the delegates.

The afternoon went extremely well and I wanted to write a short blog post to promote both the work of the Foundation, but also for the structure of the day. I am a big fan of "knowledge mobilization" which means moving knowledge to people in ways that work for them, and in time for them to act upon it. We live in a world of too much information and are constantly inundated with even more. Sometimes we fall into a rut of trying to seek more, and then limiting the ways that we share it. Most conferences and workshops have speakers and more speakers and offer little opportunity for people to get engaged in the topic area, share their ideas or most importantly, learn something new.

The Dragon's Den activity was an innovative approach to engage people, let them meet others, explore ideas, and allow learning to take place. As teams presented their ideas, delegates all learned about possibilities in the region and from the feedback provided from the Dragon's, they also learned about what will and will not work to develop the rail tourism product in the region.

Congratulations to the winning team that developed ideas around "Accessibility Tours" partnering with local businesses and rural areas to provide people with mobility impairments the opportunity to experience the region. And congratulations to The Island Corridor Foundation on the event.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fish, tourism and education: Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 6th BC Rural Summit in Port Hardy - one of my favorite areas of BC. The Rural Summit gathers people from rural communities across the province to share ideas and network. If you haven't been to one, think about attending next year.

I was particularly impressed with the wine and cheese on the first night of the conference which took place at the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center. The Center opened on September 20, 2009 and includes an interpretive gallery, labs, classroom and hatchery production facilities. It is located just out of Port Hardy in a beautiful setting which also has a campground facility.

I have been to many hatcheries throughout the province but have never seen one quite like this. The Center was designed with education in mind and to me, it illustrates how tourism can be linked in with other industries like fishing, but also to education. The outcome is that visitors are provided with a unique learning experience that introduces them to the natural and cultural heritage of an area. At the same time, numerous other wins take place - residents can take pride in their efforts to protect and promote their natural amenities and they can also take advantage of a new community facility.

This Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center was well designed to maximize interaction with the surroundings and to facilitate learning. Outside, there are well marked trails to navigate visitors around, and it is easy to locate the facilities on site. Inside, the layout of the center allows for growth and expansion, interactive exhibits on fish, and at the same time - it leaves space for community events such as the wine and cheese. There is a large meeting room area and kitchen which will enable community groups to book the facility and bring people in on multiple occasions. We spoke with Chris Stone, a Fisheries Technician with the Center who indicated that Phase two will expand on the exhibits and include a small movie theatre that provides visuals of fish throughout their life cycle as well.

I was very impressed with the facility and the efforts of all the partners that brought the idea into reality. It is worth a visit and for other communities that are thinking about how to link tourism and education to your natural heritage, take some notes from the work being done here. Best of success.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tourism in Port Alice? Fit and future potential

Last week I had the pleasure to take six great students up to Port Alice to do a participatory rural appraisal of tourism potential. The week went extremely well for the team largely due to the efforts of the Village staff and the enthusiasm of people in the community to share their perspectives.

A Participatory rural appraisal is a relatively new research approach which essentially brings a team (with differing perspectives) into a community for a week or longer to engage in dialogue on topics of interest to the community. The invite comes from the community and they largely drive the questions that they are seeking to know more about - in this case for Port Alice - it was to get residents to learn about the impacts of tourism and to explore its fit and future potential for the area.

First in the community, we did a tour to get familiar with the sites that could work as attractions or support for tourism. These were later visited again to learn about them in more depth, and they included natural and cultural sites of significance. We hosted two public meetings - which were both well attended. The first one was used for me to give an overview on the realities of tourism development for rural communities. I covered the impacts, both good and bad, that can result from tourism and gave them an idea of the ingredients for success. The meeting was well publicized and we had about 40 people turn out to share their ideas, hopes, fears and questions about tourism in Port Alice. Later in the week, we reported back to the community about what we heard and found during the week and we will share all the insights in a report this week as well (rapid report back is also a feature of the PRA approach). The students actively engaged in discussion with about 32 people outside of the meetings - sharing their ideas and learning from residents.

So what did we find in a nutshell? Port Alice is at a very early stage of tourism development - so early in fact, that my assessment tools had to be adjusted to give them proper feedback. They scored relatively low on their current "system" but it in no way was an indication of their potential for tourism. I believe it is only a matter of time until people begin to notice Port Alice and it is best that the community plans for this instead of just let's it happen. They agreed - the residents expressed strong support for tourism (based on about 72 people - and we actively searched for nay sayers!). They have an abundance of natural assets that could support adventure tourism - and I believe they have some competitive advantage over other island communities in terms of their access to ocean, fresh water, rivers and a variety of terrestrial settings. Wildlife viewing and photography opportunities are abundant, and the town has a very unique heritage that, if told, could keep visitors around in the community as well. The setting is extremely picturesque, on the water in a sheltered inlet which could support access to a variety of water based pursuits (kayaking, boating).

But, Port Alice also has a few barriers to overcome. They are not used to tourism and in fact, have not supported its growth for sometime (so we understand). Their neighboring communities are further along and will be able to attract and support visitors experiences better than Port Alice right now. It will take some investments in basic visitor experiences and infrastructure to get ready for more visitors, and they will have to fine tune the image that they want to put out about themselves to the public. Working with their neighbors is essential and there I have some faith as the North Island has a collaborative marketing initiative underway with a good funding base and some great people (with experience) to assist them.

For me, this PRA was exciting as we were able to work with a community at such an early stage of development. I was happy to help get them off to a good start by getting them to talk about tourism, its realities and steps to move forward. I look forward to continuing that support and to watching the residents pull together to diversify through tourism in the upcoming years.

The report will be released this week and available through Keir Gervais, Director of Operations for Port Alice, and we will post it on the trip website as well at (under resources, then reports). Thank you to all the people in Port Alice for sharing your ideas and participating with us in this discussion about tourism in your community - we wish you the best. Thanks to my great team of students, Wendy Scott, Kelsey Milne, Taz Hartwick, Gareth Davies, Maddy Koch and Becky Jones - you were amazing!