A reason to stay another day
Bowen Island has many assets, such as its natural beauty and cultural offerings, to attract day-trippers. But it doesn’t offer enough to entice them to stay another day, believes Gaëtan Royer, who spoke at the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) meeting on January 22.
Royer is the manager of Metropolitan Planning, Environment and Parks, Metro Vancouver and 20 members of the public came out to hear about his views. Royer started with a brief introduction about the work of Metro Vancouver. “Metro Vancouver’s area is vast - it goes from Bowen Island all the way to Abbotsford, from Lions Bay right up to the U.S. border.” Royer explained that Metro Vancouver provides services like water, sewer, and solid waste management in many communities, it also looks after air quality management and regional parks, including Crippen Park.
For the future of Metro Vancouver, the number of inhabitants is projected to increase by about 1 million in the next 30 years to reach 3.4 million people, according to Royer, who said that the median income for Metro Vancouver is lower than in other metropolitan areas in Canada. “Generally, we are not as wealthy,” he said. “And combine that with a cost of housing that is 40 per cent higher than just about anywhere in Canada.”
Those numbers point to a trend in demographics that Royer thinks is relevant for economic development. He believes that fewer people are able to invest in single family homes. They also have less money for vacations. “The number of visits to parks in remote areas is falling steadily,” he said. “Family road trips don’t fit the lifestyle any more.” In contrast, the number of visitors to regional parks is going up and Royer believes it will continue to increase. “People are moving into condos where they don’t have easy access to nature. This is how Crippen Park fits into this,” Royer said.
Royer sees a market opportunity for Bowen Island to cater to local tourists interested in enjoying local culture but cautioned against setting the sights too high. “We are not moving into a booming economy,” he said.
“But Bowen Island has a lot of assets,” he said. “You have a beautiful setting, serenity and a great lifestyle.” And he sees the increase of tourism as a mutual goal for Bowen Island and Metro Vancouver. “We realize that for Crippen Park, the only growth we can expect will be coming from people who are attracted to the island by initiatives that we take and that you take. We should work together toward that goal,” he said adding that Metro Vancouver’s goal is to expose as many people as possible to nature.
Royer said that Metro Vancouver could provide assistance with activities such as events and festivals. “The idea is to turn Bowen Island into a destination,” he said. “That requires a bit more than holding weekend festivals – it requires an investment in the form of ideas that come from the island. I would suggest to start small with something big in mind.”
For an idea that would be suited to the island, Royer gave the example of a sculpture exhibit. “For the first year, you could have a couple of weeks when you invite artists to produce sculptures. The second year, it could go all summer long. And eventually, it could grow to an all-year program,” he said, adding that the sculpture park in Bellingham is a good example.
Royer also suggested running events for longer than just one weekend. “When people attend Applefest or Bowfest, they might come to the office and talk about it. And people would say, ‘That sounds great, can we go to that?’ If the event is something that lasts two or three weeks or all summer, that would lead to more people coming,” Royer said, adding that he suggests looking at the scope and retaining some kind of control over “how big you want to be.”
Jacqueline Massey, executive director of the Bowen Island Arts Council and EDAC member, wanted to know Metro Vancouver’s position on the potential of bringing artists in residence into the Davies Orchard cottages. Royer replied that the idea of hiring a caretaker to live in the Seaside cottage was to start with minor renovations to the cottages and work toward a bigger plan. He said it would be helpful to hear from community groups but that budget constraints have to be taken into account.
EDAC member Murray Atherton said he loved the idea of “having a hook” and asked if there was anything lacking in the region that Bowen Island could deliver. “Having access to nature is a challenge for many,” Royer replied. “There is a nature deficit that kids are exposed to. As a society, we have to make sure that our kids are exposed to nature.” He also drew attention to the popularity of adventure tourism and physical activities such as zip-lines, and suggested increased access to view points.
“When I came here with my wife in the summer, I could see that there are not enough visitors to maintain a high quality of businesses,” Royer recalled. “That is not due to the effort of the businesses – the owners are doing a good job offering services – but they don’t have enough profit.”
Peter Frinton asked, “We are looking at creating opportunities for small conferences, for health and wellness and cultural tourism and services. I’m wondering if our pillars [for economical development] are sufficient or if we are missing out?”
Royer said that, according to the industry information available to him, he believes that a “large variety of offerings” needs to be available to entice visitors to stay overnight. “I don’t see that what you are offering is sufficient for the second day. I don’t think you get the overnight trip from what you have right now,” he said, comparing Bowen Island to Whistler and Las Vegas. He added that he could see a potential for longer visits to Bowen if they could be paired with conferences or spa services.
In answer to the question about the annual number of visitors to Crippen Park, Royer quoted 120,000 visits to the area. Several speakers added their voices in appreciation of Crippen Park and its role of making nature accessible to residents of the Metro Vancouver area.
Wes Magee said that he sees downsides to the proposed cause of action. “I believe that the infrastructure [for increasing visitor numbers] isn’t there. We have one public washroom at the ferry and from time to time, it’s overflowing,” he explained. “I believe you have to address the problems so that people can come up with solutions.” Bob Tanner expressed concern with focusing efforts on tourism that would create minimum-wage jobs. He said, “Where would the people live who work in those jobs? It seems to me that this strategy hasn’t been thought through. You would have to create social housing so that people can work in those jobs.” The alternative, he believes, would focus on creating jobs that would generate a higher income.
EDAC chair Gordon Ganong said that this is part of what the committee is trying to sort out. “I believe that economic development on the island means creating jobs that allow people to live here and shop here and have the lifestyle they seek,” he said.