Merritt opts-in to tourism network

By on December 6, 2017
More than 100,000 visitors stopped by the BC Visitors Centre in 2016, but the provincial government won’t be renewing the building’s lease in 2018. (Herald files).

 

City council left a meeting with Destination BC (DBC) assured that the Baillie House won’t be overwhelmed with visitors as the city looks to join the tourism authority’s visitor services network.

“That’s how we took it and that’s how we’re proceeding,” said City of Merritt chief administrative officer Shawn Boven.

He said the city has already informed the Crown corporation that it will join the network for 2018, which involves the municipality receiving $25,000 per year from DBC over the next four years to provide visitor services at the local level.

A bricks and mortar visitor centre isn’t a requirement of the program as long as visitor services are provided through alternative means, DBC visitor services manager Kathleen Harvey stated in a letter to city council following their meeting.

Municipal staff intend to take a multifaceted approach to visitor services, meaning they won’t be reliant solely on the Baillie House.

“It involves social media, perhaps some tourism ambassadors — it can be almost anything beyond the bricks and mortar structure,” Boven confirmed to Coun. Kurt Chirstopherson at last Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Boven went on to say that uniforms won’t be necessary for workers at the Baillie House — just a name badge.

“Destination BC was also very forthright with that they’re willing work with us as far as training opportunities and options,” said Boven.

The program was offered to the city because come Jan. 12 the BC Visitors Centre will close as DBC isn’t renewing its contract with a third party to offer those services out of the building.

Council directed staff to apply to the program in August, but in October deferred a motion to discuss implementing the program to a committee of the whole meeting with representatives from DBC, which took place Nov. 17.

“They just brought us up to date on all the benefits that are there to get involved in their program,” Merritt Mayor Neil Menard told the Herald. “We had a really good discussion about our concerns with Baillie House and making sure that it doesn’t get interfered with, but is also involved [in the program].”

City staff had previously recommended using the the Baillie House as its new site for visitor services, which brought about concerns from members of council that the location would be too small to accommodate the volume of traffic the current visitors centre sees on a regular basis.

Statistics from DBC included in the Nov. 17 meeting agenda shows the visitors centre’s main use is as a washroom facility.

In 2016, a recorded 32,317 visitors noted stopping at the Merritt facility to use the washroom compared to 1,571 who visited for information about Merritt.

Between 2007 and 2016 the visitors centre has seen about 100,000 visitors each year compared to approximately 15,000 at the Baillie House, according to those statistics. Numbers recorded so far for 2017 show 105,000 people have stopped at the visitors centre compared to 23,500 at the Baillie House.

Boven said the discussion at the Nov. 17 meeting centred around the likelihood of Baillie House receiving that much more traffic than it currently does.

“And if we do get 1,000 more vehicles a year downtown that’s awesome,” said Boven.

He said people won’t likely go too far out of their way to use a washroom while travelling.

“We’ll have to work to try and get people downtown,” said Boven. “With that 286 facility closing people aren’t just automatically going to come to town, we’ll have to try to draw them here.”

This will involve DBC supplying new signage to direct visitors downtown, Boven told the Herald.

Visitor Centre’s fate in the air

At the Nov. 17 meeting, city council also expressed its belief that closing the current visitors centre would be a disservice to the community.

“They’re just not renewing their lease,” Coun. Mike Goetztold the Herald. “There’s some upkeep on the building they’re not prepared to pay for — the parking needs to be expanded, the septic fields need to be expanded,” he said.

“They’re kind of relying on the [rest areas] up at Loon Lake and Box Canyon [to] service the needs,” Goetz said.

He said he doesn’t think it’s feasible for a city the size of Merritt to maintain that building, and hopes to encourage the province to take over its operations.

The main building and snack shack are owned by the Ministry of Citizen Services, so what will become of the soon to be former visitors centre is up to the province to decide.

The BC Visitors Centre in Merritt was built in 1986 and has been operated by DBC since 2013.

DBC has closed other provincial visitor centres over the past three years in favour of transitioning to a model where communities are in charge of tourism services due to the increase in online trip planning.

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