Despite marginal weather on the May long weekend, a horde of tourists descended on the town, looking to do tourist-y stuff: hike, golf, sightsee and eat.
So, imagine their surprise when they found the town almost completely shut down. “It was terrible,” says Debbie Haley, manager of the Tumbler Ridge Inn. “We did the best we could, but we didn’t have a lot of the information. We had no information on trails and the dinosaur footprints.”
The Inn is Tumbler Ridge’s third line of tourism information, after the Tourism Info Booth and the Community Centre, but both were closed on Sunday and Monday of the long weekend.
It wasn’t just tourist information that was hard to find in town. Food was at a premium, too. Only Kinuseo Café, in the Inn, remained open. The Dragon Palace and the Ridge Café were closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Sheila’s Place was closed Sunday and Monday and the Golf Course Restaurant was closed all weekend.
Golf Course Manager Marko Milankov says this was unfortunate. Kitchen staff was desperately working to open the Restaurant by Friday, but due to an inspection scheduling conflict, they weren’t able to open until May 26. “We’re a golf course, and long weekends are our busiest times, so of course we wanted to be open.”
Milankov says that he had a number of people ask him where they could get food. “I told them they might want to try Tags.”
Economic Development Officer Ray Proulx chalks it up to lessons learned for the town. Will Tumbler Ridge be ready the next long weekend? Yes, he says. Or at least, the Tourism Info Booth will be ready. Proulx says it will remain open seven days a week once they’ve hired all their staff, which should be done by June 12. As for the restaurants being closed, he says there isn’t much the District can do. “I can’t tell people how to run their business. The only thing I can do is encourage people to take that leap of faith.”
Proulx says that tourism suffers from a chicken and egg mentality. “Do I go all out and stay open all the time and hope the market comes, or do I wait for them to come, and then start opening.”
Unfortunately, says Proulx, if businesses remain closed until enough tourists come, that day might never arrive. “First impressions are everything, and I advice people to be ready regardless. Tourism statistics tell us that if we disappoint one person, it’s guaranteed that an average of 49 other people will hear about it. We can’t afford to lose that market.”
In the past, businesses didn’t keep their doors open because there weren’t enough people around, but the town’s marketing efforts are starting to take effect, says Proulx, and people are starting to come. “It’s up to us to deliver. The analogy is that we’re all stakeholders in a corporation. In order to have this momentum keep up, we need to start thinking and acting like a tourist destination. Because by thinking and acting like a tourism destination, we will become one.”