Tourism’s role in building and sustaining a healthy community in Prince Rupert

Listening to the Prince Rupert Hotel’s plans for a three million dollar upgrade got me thinking about what tourism means to Prince Rupert.

Listening to the Prince Rupert Hotel’s plans for a three million dollar upgrade last week, in the closing days of a municipal election that featured much talk about prosperity but not much talk of tourism, got me thinking once again about what tourism means to Prince Rupert.

As I’ve pointed out before, 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. Estimates for gross revenue to the community for an entire year range as high as $200 million. Almost all of our business community is sustained at least in part by tourism.

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.

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.

Yet Prince Rupert suffers a little from a sense of invisible tourism. By that I mean that the sheer number of visitors seem to be absorbed into the community on any given summer day, or they’re out on wilderness excursions, and so residents don’t always notice their presence.

Similarly, those of us who live here don’t always understand what draws visitors to Prince Rupert. We no longer truly see that we’re surrounded by stunning beauty and unique cultural diversity. We seldom visit a museum that is so strikingly good that it helps make us famous around the world. We’ve perhaps never even been out sport fishing, or seen the humpback whales bubble-net feeding, or realized how spiritually overwhelming it is to spend an hour or two watching the grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen.

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 takes hundreds of volunteers to stage the All-Native, Seafest, and so on. You needn’t devote more than a few hours to make a noticeable and appreciated contribution. Or even just talk to a visitor that you meet in the street, and ask if they’ve had a chance yet to stop by the Visitor Centre to learn more about the things they can experience here.

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.

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