Trent Ernst, Editor
On Wednesday, March 5, a group of tourist operators, business owners club members and folks just interested in tourism gathered together to discuss the past, present, and future of tourism in Tumbler Ridge.
The meeting was designed to update Tumbler Ridge’s Tourism Plan, which is funded by Community Tourism Foundations.
Former Tumbler Ridge resident April Moi, now the Northeast Coordinator for Northern BC tourism was back in Tumbler Ridge to help guide the discussion, which was facilitated by Jennifer Nicol, who has done similar work in many communities around the north.
At first blush, it seems like tourism is not a successful industry in Tumbler Ridge. Since 2008, the last time the Tumbler Ridge tourism plan was updated, the number of visitors who have stopped in to the visitor information centre have dropped from over 5000 people in 2009 to less than 2000 last year.
Not true, says Rich McCrea, curator at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery. He says that the gallery has seen exactly the opposite. “We had 4400 people last year,” he says.
That’s more people than checked in at the tourism centre. What gives?
The obvious answer is there are a lot of people who are coming to town who are not checking in at the tourism centre. This would include people coming to town to visit family or friends, people who are using on-line resources and mobile technology to navigate to certain destinations, and people who have already got the necessary information from a Visitor Centre elsewhere, like Chetwynd and Dawson Creek.
This latter theory is supported, in part, by visitation patterns. Over 62 percent of the visitors who came to Tumbler Ridge came here for less than a day. While many of the tourists who came to Tumbler Ridge were regional, more people came to Tumbler Ridge on day trips than could be expected to come from just the region.
April Moi says that there are a lot of people who head to Tumbler Ridge for the day from Dawson. “The Visitor Centre councilors in Dawson do a good job of sending people around the area: Tumbler, WAC Bennett dam, etc,” says Moi. “Some of them will stay in Dawson for a week, so they’ll park their RVs in Dawson and make multiple day trips. People are making their decision before they get to Dawson or FSJ, so if they don’t have the information about Tumbler, they’ll just continue up the highway. But they have the flexibility to stay a few days.”
Of the people who stopped in at the Visitor Centre, over a third of them (36 percent) said they were coming to town to hike. Slightly less than a third of the visitors (32 percent) said they came to town to see Kinuseo Falls. And 25 percent said they came to town to see the dinosaur trackways and/or visit the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
This combination of waterfalls and dinosaurs, says Charles Helm, another participant, is one of Tumbler Ridge’s unique attributes. “There are other places where you can see dinosaurs, like Grande Prairie,” he says. “There are other waterfalls. But nowhere else in North America do you have this combination.”
A key element in Tumbler Ridge’s tourism strategy moving forward is the proposed Geopark. Helm says that this will tie the town’s tourism features together for tourists. And while Geoparks are not well known in Canada, he says people here don’t understand how popular they are, especially in Asia. “There’s a chance that, if this happens, we will see a lot more visitors from China,” he says.
At the end of the day, the group had revisited Tumbler Ridge’s tourism plan, reinforcing some elements, changing some, and adding some. The first draft of the revised plan is expected back in a couple months.