European influx feeds better Cowichan tourist season

Visitor centres report more tourists stopping by to visit Cowichan attractions this summer compared to the previous year. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Visitor centres report more tourists stopping by to visit Cowichan attractions this summer compared to the previous year.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

The Germans are coming.

Tourists are discovering Vancouver Island again, and a lot of them are European.

After a brief dip in the industry, the number of valley visitors was up 21% in July.

It is not clear why more Europeans are visiting Vancouver Island but those working in our visitor centres say an increase in tourism is good for the Cowichan Valley.

Katherine Worsley, the Cowichan Lake Visitor Centre and Chamber of Commerce Coordinator says more attractions and better access have increased the numbers for Cowichan Lake.

“Well, it was just two years ago that the road to Port Renfrew was completed in its paving. So it is easier accessibility,” she said. “Our other popular attraction has been the interest in tubing down our river to Little Beach in Lake Cowichan. We have had two tubing companies that have opened for that market.”

Economics could explain the international flavour of the tourists, particularly from Germany.

“I think we have seen quite a bit of stabilizing in the international economy. Everyone is always concerned about the dollar in their pocket but we have seen a difference since the economy stabilized,” said Worsley.

The economy might explain the increase or it might be that visitor services are better co-ordinated than in previous years.

“I think alot of the local groups are working cohesively together to promote the community. We are communicating with each other,” said Marlie Kelsey, the coordinator for the Chemainus Visitors Centre. “We are creating a positive energy in the community and making it an exciting place to come.”

The final numbers for September are not in, but Kelsey says the total number of visitors to the Chemainus centre is up %36.4 for the second quarter.

But positive numbers aren’t holding true across the board. The Forest Discovery Centre, a major attraction in the Cowichan Valley, is experiencing a different trend.

“My numbers indicate that the increase was minimal ...when I  look at where we were at this year compared to 2010, we are down 20%,” said Vicki Holman, outgoing manager of the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.

Holman says the centre has had 18,000 visitors this summer compared to 24,000 in 2010.

“We are happy that we are somewhat stable but we would like to see it back to 2010. In my view this year was pretty much status quo but it was two years ago when we saw the economy slide and we relied heavily on local visitation,” said Holman.

“It`s more of my opinion that people are cautionus in general. Maybe Canadians are wary of what is going on in the USA  and we are trying to be more careful,” she said. “People aren’t going out and spending disposable income on things that cost money and people are looking for a lower-cost vacation.”

Not every tourist drops by a visitor centre, so the numbers they post are not a complete depiction of the whole picture.

“What we get into the visitor centre is just a piece of what is happening in the community. My number don’t always reflect the total numbers,” said Kelsey.

Europeans were the number one visitor this summer and for the first time, visitor centres are recording tourists from Quebec. It is Kelsey`s hope tourism will increase and surpass the numbers of 2010.

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