Promoting Bowen as an arts and nature destination
In the summer of 2012, approximately 65,000 visitors came through the information centre in Snug Cove that was operated by the Bowen Island Arts Council (BIAC) from the May long weekend until Labour Day. On Monday, November 26, BIAC president Carol Cram presented a report to council, along with two proposals that envision a continuation of the initiative.
“On behalf of the arts council, I’d like to thank council for entering into the service agreement with us. The summer went very well,” she said. “Our staff assisted over 65,000 visitors. In addition, we generated revenues that directly benefit local artists and businesses through our mini gallery and gift shop.” Cram said that the arts council operated the visitor information centre in the Boulevard Cottage on a budget of approximately $14,000. Added to the service fee of $12,000 from the municipality were revenues derived through sales of art products and in-kind donations.
The overall visitation numbers were lower than those recorded in 2011, according to Cram, but that could be partly due to the later start date and a downward trend in international visitors.
The busiest day at the Boulevard Cottage was August 5 when 254 visitors entered the venue on a single day. That number was closely matched on September 3 and May 19, days that saw over 230 visitors each. Cram also noted that Steamship Days attracted many day-trippers.
“When people travel to Bowen, the main information they seek concerns parks, adventure and cultural events,” Cram said. “The single most important thing we learned from operating the information centre is that visitors arrive knowing very little about what the island has to offer. They come to the visitors centre for guidance. And that allows us to focus on promoting Bowen Island as an arts and nature based destination.”
One of the BIAC initiatives that proved popular with visitors was the Bowen Island Arts and Nature Walk, a self-guided tour featuring public art and natural bounty. Jacqueline Massey, BIAC’s executive director, said, “We’ve been hosting [the art and nature walk] for a couple of years with the idea that people go on the walk and stop along the way to visit local shops.”
Due to the success in 2012, Cram presented a proposal to council to suggest that BIAC continue the operation of the visitor information centre next year. She also asked council to consider a second proposal. “In addition, we would like to request keeping the cottage heated during the winter months so that community organizations can use the space. We’ve had some expressions of interest from the public library as well as the Chamber of Commerce,” Cram said. “The arts council is willing co-ordinate the use of the space.” Cram added that she sees a lot of benefit in the collaboration of the three organizations but that they depend on the municipality covering heat and rent.
“BIAC would also agree to keep the visitor centre open on weekends from March to May 24,” she said. “We all know that on a sunny weekend during spring and fall, a lot of people come off the ferry. If they head over to the visitor centre, they are met with locked doors. Right now, we are showing visitors that there is is nothing going on in the fall and the spring on Bowen Island. I think we are missing an opportunity.” Cram said that many of the visitors, even in the summer, are locals who see Bowen Island as a day trip destination year-round. “In the spring and fall, BIAC would staff the visitor centre with volunteers,” she said. “And we could use the space for arts and cultural programs. The library is looking to run its digital literacy program as well as the summer reading program there and the Chamber of Commerce wants to store maps and materials.”
Cram explained that the library has applied for a grant to remove one of the walls in the cottage to create a larger room that could be used as a meeting space for community groups.
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz commended the arts council on the report. “Having read this, I understand that we get some great results for comparatively little money,” he said, adding that he also attended the arts council’s AGM and paid close attention to the budget. He mentioned that the municipal council cut the BIAC’s grants in 2012 and expressed his hope that the funding can be restored in the future. Councillor Cro Lucas also welcomed the report as a good source of information about visitors to Bowen Island in the summer. He also spoke in support of BIAC’s proposals.
At the end of the discussion, Cram emphasized the fact that running the visitor centre includes an “enormous volunteer effort.”