On Wednesday, Mar. 31 Tourism Kimberley executive director John Hamilton hosted a digital town hall meeting with Don McCormick to outline the role, challenges and highlights of the tourism industry and hear feedback from residents.
Revisiting 2020, Hamilton addressed the role of tourism in Kimberley, how the organization performed and what they did to make sure the community was kept as safe as possible.
He went back to the end of last March, when governments really started taking COVID seriously. There was a fairly successful ski season and then “almost overnight” everything started to shut down.
“April, May, June were lost months for many businesses, but especially for tourism,” Hamilton said. “And our messaging at the time was: stay local and dream about travel when it became safe to do so.”
By July, restrictions were starting to lift and travel within B.C. was starting to be allowed and they began to promote travel within the province. Hamilton commended Destination BC, who did a great deal to promote tourism to B.C. residents and B.C. as a wonderful destination.
Kimberley started getting visitors from the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, who had not necessarily travelled here before.
“Travel between province was and still is even to this day, not recommended, but yet this presented a challenge for Kimberley and other cities in our region, as our major market is Alberta,” Hamilton said.
“It really became immediately clear that Albertans were going to come here, regardless of what the Alberta or even the B.C. recommendations were. So a lot of people wanted us to close the border, but that wasn’t a legal option, under the Charter freedom of movement is guaranteed.”
Hamilton addressed that some people in Kimberley and throughout the East Kootenay took it upon themselves to “shame people from out of province,” which he said generated weeks of bad media publicity, some of which generated long-term harm.
“This is probably not a very smart way to prevent tourism, there are other better ways if you wanted to stop this, but this did not reflect well on our community,” he said.
Tourism Kimberley’s response was to get together for weekly meetings with the City, the Chamber of Commerce, the two largest accommodators and eventually Interior Health to manage the situation, understand the problems and implement solid communication.
Hamilton said the group quickly recognized the most important factor for limiting COVID was around behaviour, and so they developed a number of items to keep the community safe, including a code of conduct that all accommodators signed.
“In the end we had a pretty successful summer and to my knowledge to date we haven’t had a COVID case in Kimberley that was as a direct result of a tourist or visitor coming for tourist reasons,” Hamilton said. “I agree that we’ve been lucky, but I would like to think that we make our own luck and I suspect we’re going to be tested severely over the next few weeks as well.”
He added that the winter also went well and although some resorts like Big White and Revelstoke came under scrutiny, Kimberley Alpine Resort was able to stay open and prosper due to the work from Ski West and the Resort itself in defining safety rules and working with Interior Health and the accommodators.
McCormick acknowledged that while there were a number of residents who were very nervous about the number of visitors in town, there were also some who thought Kimberley should have been more open, and said what they tried to do was “cut down the centre” and try to balance personal safety with economic safety and mental health.
He said that the fact that Kimberley has only had 19 confirmed cases pandemic to date is a testament to the work done by Tourism Kimberley, the accommodators, stakeholders, residents, businesses and visitors to follow the protocols.
“The protocols work,” McCormick said. “We’ve heard this from Dr. Henry so many times over the past year, and I think as I’ve observed around town, everybody has been very, very diligent about following the protocols.”
McCormick discussed the history of Kimberley, with the city being essentially a company town, with an economy reliant on revenue from the Sullivan Mine until its closure in 2001. Slowly over the past 40 to 50 years, residents began to build up the natural recreation amenities, building the ski hill, the Kimberley Golf Course and the Nature Park, and as the mine closed, the city started to move from the mining economic engine to a tourism engine.
Mentioning that there are probably still millions of people around the world who remember Kimberley as the Bavarian City of the Canadian Rockies, he said that through the 80s and 80s, tourism flourished, but it wasn’t Kimberley’s economic backbone, but it was built into the backup plan, something to transition into.
In 2006 Kimberley got a massive investment of between $80 and $100 million from Charlie Locke and other stakeholders who built up the ski resort, but that took a huge hit in the 2008 recession.
“We learned a very valuable lesson about tourism and that is that it is extremely fickle and subject to the many external forces that are beyond our control,” McCormick said. Some of the factors he listed were low-snowfall winters, golf courses getting hit with freezing water and the pandemic.
“Our reality here is that despite the fickleness of tourism, without visitors spending money, without dropping that disposable income here in Kimberley, the business community as we know it today would not be able to survive on local spending alone.”
He said that without tourism dollars Kimberley would essentially become a “bedroom community” of Cranbrook and our whole retail community would look a lot different. Day-tripper tourists from Cranbrook, McCormick said, account for 25 per cent of the retail revenues that are spent in Kimberley annually.
He added 50 to 55 per cent of tourism volume comes from Alberta, but there is an increasing volume coming from other parts of this province and Saskatchewan. These people also buy part-time recreation properties and retire here, which becomes an important part of the tax base.
He summarized with 1) current retail can’t survive without tourism dollars, 2) Kimberley relies on its tourism stature to get government grants used to build amenities, including the new e-bike trail project and 3) visitors are a source of residential growth, important for keeping good service levels and taxes at a reasonable level.
“The fact of the matter is we have one economic engine in town, that’s tourism, and what we’ve been striving to do over this last two, three or four years is to diversify the experiences that we have,” McCormick said. “In other words, we’re more than just skiing and golf, and the best way we can do that is to provide compelling experiences and ensure that we’ve got a synergy between our residents, businesses and visitors.”
Hamilton said that Tourism Kimberley is in the business of providing warm welcomes and sharing the delights that inspire the community every day, and in order to market that, partnership is key —partnering with members of the community to understand what the want out of tourism, what’s acceptable or not, and how grants can be used for the betterment of the community.
The other important component is to provide tourism products through sustainable growth.
Around 30 people tuned into the meeting, and a question and answer segment was moderated by counsellor Nigel Kitto.
Someone asked if there are plans to increase shoulder season attractions activities and events. Hamilton replied that a new website is soon to be launched in conjunction with Cranbrook called Rockies Exploring that looks at how do accomplish that.
Some of the things mentioned including spring bird watching, larch viewing, multi-sport days and craft breweries, while McCormick mentioned some things that have been dormant because of COVID such as the conference centre which attracts business tourism.
Another question was, other than golf and skiing what are other things Tourism Kimberley wants to develop.
Hamilton listed four main things, the outdoors, so mountain biking, fishing, rafting and hiking, which is their largest pillar. Then events and festivals, which Hamilton said Kimberley needs to do better at, partly by creating a central organizing way of putting them on. Next was the arts community and then finally heritage and partnering more with the Ktunaxa First Nation.
He also said that he hopes more entrepreneurs from the community come forward and present their own ideas to Tourism Kimberley to develop their own ideas.
The full presentation will be posted online at www.tourismkimberley.com if you wish to view it in its entirety and hear all the other questions asked by residents.