A Monday morning gander down Trunk Road’s ferry lineup reveals the usual suspects: the commuters, the high school students and the weekenders. Then there are those parked in the yellow crosshatch: the tourists.
Measuring tourism on Bowen is tricky, but there are a few indicators.
BC Ferries has steadily seen more passengers in recent years. This past year has seen a six per cent increase in ferry traffic to Bowen. A total of 621,222 people passed through the Snug Cove terminal in the 2017-2018 fiscal year (ending March 31,) up from 586,184 people the year before.
July, the height of the tourist season, historically sees the most ferry traffic and 2018 was no exception. Snug Cove hosted more than 68,000 passengers in July alone. That’s a 3,000-passenger increase from the year before. As a baseline comparison, February, the month with the least Horseshoe Bay-to-Bowen ferry traffic, had just under 40,000 passengers in 2018.
However, BC Ferries reports increased traffic on nearly all its routes, so the trend is not unique to Bowen. The company notes that better route service, cheaper ferry fares and free days for seniors have contributed to higher ridership.
And ferry traffic doesn’t necessarily translate directly to visits to Bowen’s attractions.
Tourism Bowen counts people who stop at their travelling kiosk and at the base of Trunk Road and the visitors’ centre beside Cove Commons. This July, Tourism Bowen helped 4,426 people. This is a 22 per cent increase in visitor traffic from the same month last year.
However, as Jody Lorenz of Tourism Bowen notes, the better numbers reflect better service and record-keeping on the part of the organization. As well, the mobile kiosk is out on Trunk Road only when there are two staff members available to help the public. This is not always possible, especially when summer students return to school.
Some accuse Tourism Bowen of promoting the island too well and clogging local infrastructure with come-from-aways, prompting some social media ire.
Lorenz, however, notes that, “Tourism Bowen Island is being blamed for all things related to visitors but there are many factors such as ferry fares, weather, wildfires and others that have nothing to do with our work.
“Our work managing the visitor centre helps to facilitate sustainable tourism because we provide valuable education and direction to visitors including ferry etiquette.”
“Concerns and frustrations regarding ferry marshalling should really be directed towards BC Ferries,” she said in an email.
However, our third indicator complicates the narrative of tourism booming across the board.
Metro Vancouver monitors Crippen Park and while 2018 visitor numbers won’t be available until year’s end, the figures for years past tell a different story than the Tourism Bowen and ferry statistics.
In 2017 visits to Crippen Park were the lowest they’d been in three years. Metro recorded 277,000 visits in 2017, four per cent fewer than the 289,000 visitors of 2016.
Metro Parks attributes lower visitor numbers to a long winter, a long extreme fire rating period and prolonged air quality advisories.