Talking Prince Rupert tourism with the opposition critic

Spencer Chandra Herbert is MLA, Vancouver - West End, and Opposition Critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts

Spencer Chandra Herbert is MLA, Vancouver – West End, and Opposition Critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts. He spent a day in Prince Rupert last week, visiting with business people in the company of Tourism Prince Rupert, to learn more about the town and our local tourism industry. We also were joined by MLA Gary Coons, Opposition Critic for Ferries and Coastal Communities.

At TPR we conduct a wide variety of these familiarization tours on an annual basis. I often write about the travel media and tour operators that we bring to Prince Rupert, but we also bring many industry partners. This includes staff from the various departments of Tourism BC, marketing staff from corporate partners (particularly transportation partners), and of course elected officials and government staff.

Obviously this isn’t restricted to officials from the party in power. The most effective advocate depends upon the issue, but clearly the Opposition Critic is well placed to influence virtually any provincial tourism issue. So the opportunity to have Spencer visit one-on-one with individual members of Tourism Prince Rupert was invaluable.

Some of the concerns raised by our members last week were major. For example, the future of our cultural institutions, cut off from the high visitor revenues and other additional funding available in larger centres, might well depend upon the return of the gaming revenues skimmed off by the provincial government.

Other concerns were more in the nature of frustrations that add to the challenges already facing northern business owners – for example, being told by the Liquor Distribution Branch that certain wines are not available to them, then finding Vancouver restaurants and wine stores selling that same wine.

For the most part we allowed our members to voice their concerns directly to Spencer. It is a more powerful message when it comes from the front line, from people invested in the industry. However, in addition to the issue of gaming revenue, we had two major points of concern to stress with Spencer.

As quickly as possible we need an independent, industry-led, formula funded provincial tourism agency similar to Tourism BC. As soon as Tourism BC was absorbed, provincial funding for tourism dropped by 42% (from $84.6 million to $48.9 million), and we have been without a comprehensive provincial tourism strategy. Small communities such as Prince Rupert rely on provincial partner funding, and our marketing efforts are more effective when they are done within a consistent provincial strategy. It is absolutely vital to see the return to a stable system.

Also, and this is obviously familiar ground for Gary, we see BC Ferries northern routes as vital marine highways. Skyrocketing fares are seriously harming local tourism businesses, and are reducing the ability of residents to use this provincial highway. The province must ensure a return to reasonable rates.

In addition to these things we also made sure that Spencer was familiar with two issues that fall mostly under the federal government but are valuable for a concerned MLA to be made aware of from a local perspective. The first of these is of course the cruise industry, and Spencer was provided an overview by the Port Authority. The second is the issue of halibut allocation, and the need for a solution to this for the well being of our sport fishing operators in 2012.

I’d like to thank the TPR members, Board of Directors, and Mayor and Council for coming out to meet Spencer. I’d also like to thank the Chamber of Commerce for their hospitality during the visit. But more than anything I’d like to thank Spencer, and Gary Coons, for devoting the time to a discussion about Prince Rupert tourism.