2018 was a busy year for the Lillooet Chamber of Commerce and its new Tourism Lillooet program.
First steps have been taken to develop a Tourism Lillooet Destination Management Organization (DMO) including recruiting a board of directors. Future initiatives include board training, establishing a not-for-profit society early in the New Year, choosing a vision and strategic planning.
The second initiative involved establishing a Tourism Ambassador program, an expansion of the 2017 tour bus co-ordinator project.
This year, a successful Familiarization (FAM) Tour was also organized for regional tourism professionals. One hundred per cent of tour participants said in a follow-up survey that they would recommend Lillooet as a destination to their visitors. Eighty per cent said their impression of Lillooet was much better following the tour.
Angela Bissat Director of Tourism for the Chamber, appeared as a delegation at District of Lillooet Council’s Dec. 3 meeting.
She said Tourism Lillooet is asking council to pass a resolution stating that, “starting in 2019, the District of Lillooet Mayor and Council recognize Tourism Lillooet as the primary tourism marketing management and development organization in the Lillooet region.”
Council was also asked to appoint one of its members to the Tourism Lillooet Board of Directors.
Bissat said she understood no decision would be made on those requests at the Dec. 3 meeting.
During her presentation, Bissat reviewed a 50+page report on local tourism and discussed current opportunities and challenges, as well as future plans.
Because Lillooet is on the boundary between the Vancouver Coast and Mountains tourism region and the Cariboo-Chilcotin-Coast region, Lillooet has benefitted by being able to participate in planning in both regions, said Bissat.
She told council the tourism ambassadors were successful in convincing travelers to spend additional time in Lillooet. This was done by identifying travelers’ interests and reason for travel, and then matching activities to their preferences.
The report recommends that the program should continue since it provides a valuable service to the community and visitors.
“The presence of tourism ambassadors interacting in the community and visible at local events allows for real-time influence on travel preferences,” the report states. “The ability to provide recommendations or updated travel information is critical to the impression left on visitors.”
The report also recommends moving supervision of the Ambassador program to the Lillooet Visitor Centre because the program meets Destination BC’s future vision and will allow for consistent training and messaging.
Statistics collected by both the tourism ambassadors and Lillooet Visitor Centre show a sharp decline in the number of tour buses coming through Lillooet and an increase in the number of individual and group travelers coming to the area.
Two bus companies (Globus and Cosmos) have indicated they will not come back through Lillooet until the Ten Mile Slide is open or the Big Slide is widened to two lanes and paved.
Globus and Cosmos are the two largest tour bus companies that have been traveling through the area; they represent a significant percentage of tour bus visits to Lillooet. Bissat said Evergreen and Scenic will decide this spring if they will continue to have their buses visit Lillooet.
Staffing and accommodation for staff continue to be an issue province-wide and locally. In Lillooet several businesses are researching and using the Foreign Workers program.
But the report notes, “Even if staff can come to Lillooet, affordable accommodation is difficult to find. Capacity and affordability are concerns that must be addressed.”
Parking for tour buses and hours of operation for local restaurants, particularly on weekends, have also been mentioned as concerns. At the Dec. 3 meeting, concern was also expressed about visitors running out into traffic between the Museum/Visitor Centre and Abundance Artisan Bakery.
Bissat said the Chamber was working on trying to get a crosswalk at that location.
Future recommendations for Tourism Lillooet include the development of revenue-generating opportunities, including but not limited to FAM tours, training and consulting services and oversight of the Lillooet Visitor Centre and Tourism Ambassador program.
The report recommends that, as Tourism Lillooet grows and develops, the Ambassador Program and the Visitor Centre “report to and funds are managed through” Tourism Lillooet. The change would ensure that the Visitor Centre develops in line with Destination BC’s vision and would create consistency in messaging and communications.
“It streamlines the process and it continues to make sure the message is consistent that everyone is working together for tourism,” explained Bissat.
There were questions from Mayor Peter Busse, Councillor Laurie Hopfl and members of the public regarding the future of the Visitor Centre, which is currently managed by the Lillooet District Historical Society.
Councillor Hopfl asked if the recommended change would mean a new location for the Visitor Centre.
“As far as the physical location of the Visitor Centre, it doesn’t necessarily have to change,” Bissat told Hopfl.
“So why have it under Tourism? Why not just leave it as it is and work together?” asked Hopfl.
“The idea is consistency of messaging, and not just on a local level but for the projects under destination management and Destination BC,” replied Bissat. She said Tourism Lillooet was “absolutely not” looking at alternate locations for the Centre.
Bissat described the recommendation regarding the Visitor Centre as a longer-term proposal, adding there have been no discussions between Tourism Lillooet and the Historical Society.