Tourism Forum focuses on North Island collaboration

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Published in the North Island Gazette, March 2016

By Trish Weatherall


Participants from all over the North Island attended the North Island Tourism Forum March 16 at the Port Hardy Civic Centre


About 75 participants from North Island communities gathered at the Port Hardy Civic Centre on March 16th to brainstorm ideas and initiate action plans to improve local tourism at the Community 2 Community North Island Tourism Forum. Representatives from ten communities: Alert Bay, Coal Harbour, Echo Bay, Malcolm Island, Port Alice, Port Hardy, Port McNeil, Quatsino, Sointula, Woss, included local governments, First Nations, tourism-related businesses, and tourism agencies.


The day-long event was sponsored by the Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW), Community Futures Mount Waddington, Island Coast Economic Trust, K’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, Town of Port Hardy, and Vancity Credit Union; hosted by the RDMW, and facilitated by Ecoplan International, a Vancouver-based company that helped produce several North Island community economic development plans.


Collaboration key theme


The central theme was the need for collaboration, networking, and cross-promotion between businesses, between communities, between tourism operations, and between First Nations and non-First Nations.


“People attending the Forum appreciated the opportunity to exchange ideas and felt that the event was very effective at helping them develop a better understanding of the issues and potential benefits from working together to advance some of the projects,” said RDMW Economic Development Manager Pat English.


Quatsino First Nation Band Administrator Jim Michals said in an email to the RDMW that the Forum was “Well executed. An unqualified success.”


“The day had lots of valuable input from many people with a wealth of information,” said Port Alice Councillor Marnie Chase. “The North Island is a real gem, a traveller’s paradise, so it was inspiring to see all the people there from all avenues of the tourism industry. I’m particularly excited to see the opening of the First Nations Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy!”


“It was good to see people from various sectors and areas come together to try to solve issues from a regional perspective,” said Gaby Wickstrom, President Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce. “The day made me realize that though we may talk “regional approach” there are still bridges to build to achieve this. It was a good start!”


Organizers acknowledged the forum being held on Kwa’kiutl First Nation territory, and introduced Hereditary Chief George Hunt who spoke a traditional Kwa’kiutl welcome to begin the day.


Guest speakers provided background reports, studies, and statistics on tourism activities, visitor demographics, and target market.


Dave Petryk, President and CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island, reported that 2015 was a banner year for tourism on Vancouver Island with an 8% increase. He presented the Destination BC Tourism Strategy, and tools like the web site, the Vancouver Island Trails strategy, and the potential to capitalize on the existing Destination BC Brand ‘Wild within’, (see youtube videos at:, and the History Channel’s Alone TV series – filmed entirely in the North Island.


Keynote highlights Aboriginal tourism


With Aboriginal tourism as a key sector in BCs tourism strategy, the Forum welcomed Keynote speaker Keith Henry, Chair and CEO of Aboriginal Tourism Canada. Henry spoke about marketing the region as an indigenous destination and the importance of incorporating authentic aboriginal experiences into visitor planning. Henry provided information and statistics from national research on key markets, visitor demographics, the collaborative work Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada has done to date, and a moving video telling first-person stories of art, dancing and singing passed from generation to generation. He also introduced ATAC’s new logo and the website.


Henry pointed out that Canada has thousands of years of history and historical sites, but the question is how to implement and create market-ready businesses that share indigenous culture and experience with visitors.


“Keith Henry seemed like a very down-to-earth guy,” said Davis Henderson, Tourism Coordinator, k’awat’si Tourism Company. “It was nice that he said, ‘it is great to see the progress in everyone coming together.’ You can tell that he cares about what he does. Cultural Tourism is getting bigger and it was powerful to have all those statistics presented. I also learned there were a few things from our First Nations cultural ways that I had forgotten.”


Top 10 Tourism Priorities


The action-oriented forum built on issues identified in local economic development plans, and tourism sector sessions, and gave participants the opportunity to collaborate on specific topics and come up with action plans.


The forum used an electronic voting process to prioritize the top 10 of 19 previously identified topics. The topics for break-out sessions were: Joint Ventures: Aboriginal and Non-aboriginal; First Nations/Cultural Tourism; Framework for Cooperation (between businesses and between communities); Communications; Accommodations; Nature Tourism; Tourism Experience; Trail Marketing & Development; Extending Trip Stay; and Branding.


Attendees selected three of the topics to participate in 45-minute round-table discussions where they identified tasks, timing, leadership, resources, challenges, and next steps.


Some ideas discussed include:

  • Collaboration between all stakeholders on nature tourism initiatives, like information kiosks, and promotion of nature tourism business ideas to potential entrepreneurs
  • Linking complementary activities in the region to extend visitor stays
  • Education and resources on First Nation culture, and a brochure/map on regional languages, dialects, and culture
  • Creating cohesion and buy-in between all communities and the regional brands of the RDMW and Vancouver Island North, and make branding more accessible
  • Creating a Memorandum of Understanding between all Visitor Centres and Cultural Centres on the North Island to communicate, cross-promote and share best practices
  • Regionally common directional and informational and cultural signage for trails, and a one-stop internet site for North Island trail information.
  • Improving the tourism experience with an ambassador program, improving the service standards, and community environment
  • Creating a strategy to improve quality and availability of accommodations
  • Collecting user stories and lobbying for high-speed internet for all North Island communities
  • Coordinating ferry and flight schedules to extend visitor stays


Attendees were also encouraged to give written input on other topics that were not in the ten priorities including: Research, Advocacy, Harbour/Marine Development, Food Tourism, Sports Tourism, Events and Festivals, Signage, Workforce Attraction and Training, and Attracting the Film Industry.


Next steps


“The Forum was the first step towards developing a greater level of cooperation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in the tourism sector. This is an ongoing initiative that will offer both communities potential benefits in job creation and investment attraction,” said English. “Developing respectful business partnerships takes time and effort and depends on our ability to listen and accommodate conflicting interests but the understanding that we gain from these efforts will offer all communities greater benefits from a sustainable, diversified tourism sector.”


“The next step is for EcoPlan to collect all of the information from the Forum and assemble a report summarizing the key tasks that need to be undertaken in order to move the various initiatives forward. This report should be completed by the end of April.”


In a press release, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour Shirley Bond said, “B.C.’s tourism sector is thriving and is a key economic driver for our province. With the right economic strategies in place, tourism in the North Island can continue to contribute to our diverse, strong and growing economy. The North Island Tourism Forum is a key way for businesses, local leaders and First Nations to work together and build an economic strategy that will help communities and businesses in the North Island diversify and strengthen their regional economy.”


Keith Henry, Chair and CEO of Aboriginal Tourism Canada, highlighted the importance of incorporating authentic aboriginal experiences into visitor planning, at the Community 2 Community North Island Tourism Forum March 16th.