People sitting around tables in a large room

Cortes Island’s First Two Tourism Cafes

Close to 40 residents turned out to the first two Tourism Cafes on Cortes Island. The Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA) brought in Lesley Anderson and Nancy Arsenault to facilitate meetings at Mansons and Gorge Halls last week. The pair will host a virtual Tourism Cafe on  Wednesday, November 1st from 10 am to 12 pm, and return in January to present their findings. 

“ People came out of the meeting feeling a lot more informed about this planning process and how it can be a force for better tourism outcomes on the island in the future.  A process like this can be really useful and it doesn’t have to result in greater tourism. It’s how we can nuance that tourism and make it better for the island and just attract the right visitors,” explained Kate Madigan, Economic Development Officer of CCEDA.

Kate Maddigan – submitted photo

“We had quite a range of feedback. A lot of people are kind of like, ‘ Why are we doing this? We’ve got enough tourism on Cortes, we don’t need any more’ – And that’s true.” 

“Somebody showed up at the Manson’s, ate some pizza, stayed for a little bit of the discussion and then left. They were there for maybe 20% of the discussion, and I saw what they wrote on a piece of paper to one of the questions, and it said, ‘there is too much focus on tourism.’ It’s too bad that person didn’t get the full benefit of the entire discussion, because they would have learned that actually we do want to try and plan and manage and shape tourism.”

“Lesley and Nancy of Tourism Cafe explained we don’t want tourism to happen haphazardly. We want to be able to plan it and manage it in a way that is good for the community.  If you don’t get involved in how tourism is evolving on your island, it might evolve in a way that is not good for the community. This is why we’re doing this exercise.”

“There’s a lot of tourists out there. We don’t want to be everything to everybody. We want to attract the kind of tourists that respect our island way of life, that respect how we want tourism to evolve.  We did spend a lot of time discussing that.”

“For example someone told the story of some tourists that were in the Natural Food Co-op. They were getting really angry with the staff because the cafe was closed and there was nothing open on the island. It’s too bad we don’t have something open all the time for people to go and eat somewhere, but we want tourists that are actually informed about things like that. Come prepared, be self-sufficient and realize that there isn’t anywhere to eat all hours of the day.” 

“Then it becomes our responsibility to make sure that tourists can find the information that they need to know how to prepare for  their visit here.”

CC: What are you suggesting? That we advertise that there’s no places open to eat between such and such a time? 

KM: “I don’t know if anyone’s really keen about having a Cortes brand, but there are things we could do to highlight the types of experiences that people can have over here so that we attract the type of visitor that appreciates those things  that we all appreciate.”

“Our online presence could be improved. Our  was intended to be a website for tourism. We don’t necessarily want everyone to go to the Tideline to get their information because that’s intended for the community, but maybe we could improve the website.”

“Another really interesting idea is to have a Cortes Ambassador on the ferry, talking to people. Telling them about road etiquette, there’s no passing lanes. ‘If you’re going too slow, pull over and let people go by you. These are the hours of the cafes. What do you want to do on Cortes? I’ll help you find the information you need.'” 

“It could be either a volunteer position or maybe we could find the funding and actually have someone paid. I think it would really help our island actually. That’s just one idea though.”

CC: Tell us some of the other ideas. 

KM: “Maybe we need to get away from the word tourist. We want to think about the people coming as visitors, like the visitor economy,  because we have friends and family visiting, they’re tourists too. They’re looking for things to do.” 

“Nancy and Lesley of Tourism Cafe  were really surprised by the concept of a carrying capacity of the island. What is the carrying capacity of Cortes? These are very experienced. consultants.  They worked all the way across Canada, all the way to Labrador and up in the territory and they hadn’t heard that word before.”

“It’s something that might come out of land use planning. What are our water resources? How many people can we have as residents? What is the number that’s sustainable, including visitors?”

CC: The immediate thought I have is what do you do with the rest of them? (Laughs) How do you say, okay we’ll have 300 visitors a day, but no more, 200 or whatever. Assuming you do come up with the number that we can carry, how do you police it?

KM: “I think it has more to do with planning around BC ferries. Does the island want unlimited sailings and huge boats bringing unlimited cars here?”

CC: What would we do then? Say that we won’t have big ferries? 

KM: “Maybe we need to be more creative about how we bring people here.  Maybe we need to support foot passengers more and find ways to get people over here that doesn’t involve cars.

CC: How would they get around? 

KM: “There’s various ways to get around here.  We could work on including a community bus and also improving the roads to accommodate more bicyclists, including e-bikes, which is really the most reasonable way to get around the island on e-bike, given how hilly and windy it is.”

CC: Were there other things that came out of the meeting? 

KM: “One person later sent me an article about the San Juan Islands.  They were saying that they felt that the island is at capacity with their tourists and there is no such thing as a shoulder season anymore. They  come  all year long and it’s really taxing their resources on the island.  They’re introducing a resident and visitors fee. It’s a $10 or $15 annual fee for bikes, boats, and cars to help pay for infrastructure improvements and management on the island.”

“I’m not sure how they would introduce that and how they would administer that, but I think it’s an interesting idea.  How would we try and pay for things like just even RVs. RVs are hard on our roads.  That’s a provincial jurisdiction managing the roads, but the roads don’t look too good right now and putting more heavy vehicles on it would just make it worse.” 

CC: The SRD appears to be our only form of local government, are these things we’d set up through them?

KM: “If you’re talking about cars, bikes, and boats,  there’s various ways you could collect that, there’s the yacht clubs,  the harbor authority, and the ferry. You could collect it at various places, like the accommodations. It’s an interesting idea, though.”

CC: I want to reiterate for anyone reading that these are ideas, not policies, and at the moment any idea is open for discussion.

KM: “It’s just a conversation. I think the whole idea of carrying capacity  is a new one and  it would be up to us to determine if that’s a valuable way  to think about tourism and people living here, or not. What does it mean?” 

CC: Tell us about Lesley Anderson, Nancy Arsenault and their presentation.

KM: “One person said that  they obviously had been doing this type of  presentation for a long time, which I think was a positive comment.”

“They really did know their stuff  and they wanted to get it right  for this community, because we are unique.  They understood that, and they were trying to get a clearer idea of how we were unique and so on.”

“I found that they were very inquisitive about a lot of things.  In the debrief after the community session, Colin Funk (President of CCEDA) and I sat down with them, and  they just wanted to go over the tourism plan from 2014, and what came out of that. I think people were all impressed with that effort of 2014 .

“For anyone who didn’t make these sessions, there’s another opportunity to join on  Wednesday, November 1st from 10 am to 12 pm. It’s an online zoom session and in order to get the zoom link email this address and you can also email me and I can also send you the Zoom link.” 

In addition to the virtual cafe this Wednesday, there will be a chance for the community to voice their opinions when Lesley Anderson and Nancy Arsenault return in January. 

They are preparing a report that will shape the future of tourism on Cortes, much like the 2018 LEAP report has influenced development up until now. This will be the document that grant writers and policy makers refer to for the next 5 years.  

Top image credit: Tourism Cafe at Gorge Hall on Tuesday Oct 24 – courtesy CCEDA

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