Imagining the Future of Tourism on Cortes

Over the last few months CCEDA has been working with a Canada-wide but Comox-based consulting company called Tourism Cafe, on proposals for the future of tourism on Cortes Island. The process is nearing its completion, but islanders have one more chance to participate and make their opinions and priorities known.

On January 31st at 4pm, CCEDA will sponsor a “virtual public meeting” — the last in a series that started in Fall 2023 — at which some preliminary findings will be presented and one final round of community input gathered. The end product will be a formal report with an analysis of the local “visitor economy” and recommendations for the future.

Currents interviewed Kate Maddigan from CCEDA, who has been coordinating this effort.

Carrington Bay hiking trail, tourism photo from website.

CC: So, what does Tourism Cafe actually do?

KM: it’s a consulting group, and they live somewhat locally on Vancouver Island. They were here in October and had a couple of community meetings, and a virtual meeting ,and they collected all sorts of information about the visitor economy on Cortes.

Like, what are we doing? What are we not doing? What are the gaps? What are the strengths and weaknesses of our visitor economy? What would people like to see more of? What is the ideal guest? and so on.

And that was really great and it was well attended; and then they went away, and they’re back now to present those findings.But there’s still one more opportunity to participate and help shape the eventual final report, which is going to be available in about a month.

They’ve done a lot of research. these gals are really well prepared and I’m starting to realize why they are considered really top in the industry in terms of helping communities with their tourism — especially rural remote [places], like Cortes Island.

They’ve been doing a lot of stakeholder interviews. They’ve reviewed like 25 documents, plans, and studies. And and they’ve done what they call “asset inventory” for Cortes Island, which is all about identifying… accommodations, businesses, parks, facilities, events, transportation… that support tourism.

So they’ve done their homework and I’m really impressed with what they’ve done.

Smelt Bay Park, tourism photo from website

CC: And what issues have they uncovered, or drawn attention to?

KM: Some of the findings were… that basically there’s a lot of economic potential around tourism that really isn’t optimized with whatever we have for infrastructure, products, services, and amenities on Cortes Island. More specifically, if we want to really improve the tourism economy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we need more visitors.

What it does mean is that maybe we want to get more yield per visitor. But we would need to provide more purchasable products and services, plus the ability to connect places, to improve transportation. The recreational boaters [for example], how do we connect them with more of the island?

And then, improving the shoulder season. Perhaps businesses can be open more throughout the year to provide visitor services, such as food and restaurants and things to do.

I think it’s worth repeating that we don’t necessarily need more visitors, but we need to improve how much we can get per visitor if we really want to improve the economy for the tourist industry here. And that’s good to know. Because we don’t want to necessarily plug up the ferry with more people. But we want the businesses here who are in tourism to be successful and make a living.

Desolation Sound, tourism photo from website

CC: What emerged from the community input?

KM: Basically what our facilitators Nancy and Lesley wanted us to do, at the very end, was to vote on our top three priorities; general overall priorities came under four different topics, which were Infrastructure, Services & Amenities, Transportation and Visitor Experience.

That’s basically what they boiled those things down to. And they had a whole bunch of different things that you could vote on, including, for example, under Infrastructure: roads, quality, safety and shoulders. Or another one was water quality and security. Or providing pumpout stations. And they focussed in on transportation, like what about public transit to and from the communities and the key visitor points?

Services and amenities [questions] like fire safety. We had a chance to vote on fire safety as a possible emphasis. And so on — there were probably anywhere from 10 to 15 different things that we could vote on under those four general topics. I think I can safely say that the top priority was fire safety. Also water quality and security was a top consideration for most of the people there as well.

And we’ll do all that again, we’ll do that whole exercise again — voting on your top priorities, in the virtual session on January 31st.

Tourism Cafe live meeting at Mansons Hall, photo by Kate Maddigan

Cortes residents are invited to attend the final, virtual meeting on Wednesday January 31st at 4pm, to express their opinions and concerns about the “visitor economy”. CCEDA will shortly be announcing the event and instructions for attending online.

[This article is an abridged version of the full 10-minute radio interview (podcast above) which contains quite a bit more detail and additional topics discussed at Tourism Cafe meetings. The original interview with Kate Maddigan was conducted by Roy Hales; produced for radio and website by De Clarke.]