Last year, Wells Gray Infocentre had the most visitors of any infocentre in the province. This year, the count for May was up 22 per cent over the previous May, with more than 9,000 people visiting.
We asked Tay Briggs, director with Information Wells Gray (the consortium of local tourism businesses that operates the Infocentre) to comment. Here is her reply:
There are certainly many factors that are contributing to the steady rise in tourism here. Many places in B.C. are experiencing increased tourist numbers – and that is a separate topic. The growth in our area, however is out of proportion to the rest of the province.
The first thing to note is that our area has a much higher percentage of western Europeans entering our area for travel purposes than do Canada or B.C.
One of the reasons for this is, to be honest, is very persistent and incisive marketing over the years by certain tourism operators. Mike and Regina Mueller of Upper Clearwater were at the cusp of this almost 30 years ago now. They recognized that our product would resonate with many Europeans who had a fascination of the wilds of North America.
But you do have to have the product! Tourism is like any other business – there are many different products. Some people travel for golf and wine, some people travel for beautiful cities, some for cute mountain towns.
There are some people however, and the number seems to be growing, that want the experience of being in a place that seems unaffected by both man and time.
Because we are lucky enough to live here, we do not realize how rare this opportunity is in many parts of the world. Experiencing what they feel is a true wilderness is what is important to the people who are coming, and to many, Wells Gray Park is that place.
We get thousands of visitors a year into the information centre that say the feeling of wilderness they got here really was “the Canada they imagined.”
I think it is also fair to say that over the years the information centre has helped generate more tourism activity and numbers in the town. The centre is an attractive building which has a great location. The updated displays, free wifi (thanks to the wonderful service of the great folks at Mercuryspeed), coffee, kids’ play areas, clean bathrooms, local arts and crafts and most of all, great service. The centre is a natural draw.
The facility has been written up in many guidebooks as a “must stop,” giving the very friendly staff there a chance to convince people to stay longer, even if it is just to see one waterfall.
Many times people return to the centre in later years having planned a longer trip. Just yesterday I was in the centre and a young man came in and said the first time he was there was when he was hitchhiking with his wife and was treated so kindly they had to come back – in a car with friends to stay longer.
There are people who come in that are so grateful for the help, whether it is finding the perfect activity, or a place to stay, that they tell travel agents and friends and the word spreads.
Many things will effect tourism in our future. Having a strong destination marketing organization like Tourism Wells Gray that works with larger organizations such as Destination BC is very important.
That is not as important, however, as looking after the product that people have come to see. Acknowledging the importance of our viewscapes, building and maintaining trails, and maintaining a connection from the entry of the park to the town will be vital for the continued success of the tourism industry in Clearwater.