The value and future of tourism, as part of this community, is paramount to us at Tourism Prince Rupert.
Guided tourism growth can be extremely meaningful for the community. Uncontrolled growth could be less beneficial. We all know the stories of worst-case scenarios, such as cruise ports with “tourist go home” signs in the windows. I can see how attitudes like that develop – unplanned growth in any industry can lead a community down paths it shouldn’t necessarily have taken. Yet it saddens me to think that the people who live in those places could have allowed that to happen. In Prince Rupert, the only reason that we work as a community to shape and develop tourism is to build a stronger community.
I’ve said it before – we’re not going to save the world with tourism. But it offers us many things. In just the three months of our Prince Rupert Visitor Study in 2007, we know that tourism brought us $52 million in revenue and hundreds of jobs. We’re now taking part in a Tourism British Columbia Value of Tourism study, and that should finally give us a sense of what tourism means in annual revenue. Although it is important to know the dollar value of the industry, it won’t tell us the whole story.
Tourism offers economic growth without unnecessary sacrifice. Properly planned, tourism growth need neither change our way of life nor bring harm to our environment. Tourism lends economic sense to community improvements that improve our quality of life. It allows us to have many amenities, in museums, diverse restaurants and so on, that we might not otherwise be able to support. And frankly, showing off our town to the world brings a strong sense of community pride. I for one have not forgotten the sheer optimism of that day in 2004 when the first flood of passengers from the Norwegian Spirit arrived at Northland Terminal. On that day it seemed that we were finally reaching the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, and after six seasons of operation, every time one of those ships ties up it still brings this community a $280,000 pay cheque.
The value of tourism needs to be measured by the many things that make a difference in our lives. It offers everything from entry-level summer jobs to work in valuable trades. Business owners who rely on tourism contribute substantially to our tax base.
I think that the people of this town are excited about tourism, but I’m not sure that we have, as a community, completely embraced tourism. One still hears too many dismissive comments, mostly from people who don’t know enough about what the industry can mean for us. Learning more, and becoming involved, is nearly always rewarding – and it’s easy to do. It has taken hundreds of volunteers to stage the Northern BC Winter Games, the Torch Celebration, All-Native, and so on, and if contributing a few hours to these celebrations isn’t an example of many people collectively working in small ways to create a benefit to the community, while at the same time putting our best foot forward for visitors, then I don’t know what is.
Like many people who did not grow up here, I recognize on a daily basis why Prince Rupert is important to me. Set against any challenges created by a small or isolated community, this is a place where people still care. I think that tourism will help us prosper as a community while leaving this core value undamaged.