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New visitor centre drawing them in

Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business of B.C. was among the special guests at the Duncan/Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s grand opening of the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre celebration on Friday, Feb. 7. - Andrew Leong
Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business of B.C. was among the special guests at the Duncan/Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s grand opening of the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre celebration on Friday, Feb. 7.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

It didn’t take long for the new Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre to have the effect it was looking for.

In the first few months of soft operation, the centre is attracting visitors at a pace significantly higher than what it did before.

January numbers for 2014 were nearly double (472 visitors to 248) what they were the year before, and Feb. 1 marked the centre’s busiest day ever — 550 people, way up from the 2013 peak of 105 in mid-July.

“We’ve been in the centre for three months and early indications are it’s doing exactly what was projected,” said chamber president George Gates in a media release.

“Now we have a landmark building that captures visitors and tells people more than ever about the five areas within our region.”

The chamber said the increase is because of the highly visible and easily accessible location and the synergy of having two major attractions — the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre and the Cowichan Commons — in close proximity.

The record Feb. 1 numbers were fed by the Maple Syrup Festival at the Forest Discovery Centre

“By opening during B.C. Forest Discovery Centre events, we capture families from all over the Island, the Lower Mainland and Washington, and introduce them to everything Cowichan has to offer,” visitor centre co-ordinator Kirsty Grant said.

“They love the displays, and continually tell us they are discovering new things to see and do here.”

The centre, which features 1,500 square-feet of display space, had its official opening ceremony Feb. 7.

A crowd of dignitaries checked out the nine tourism displays showcasing Cowichan attractions from Ladysmith to Lake Cowichan to the Malahat, and activities from wineries to outdoor adventure and everything in between.

Owned and operated by the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, the centre gives visitors a chance to speak face-to-face with people who can answer questions and give tips on exploring every corner of Cowichan.

The Feb. 1 weekend featured presentations and demonstrations from the Cowichan Knitters, Pacific Northwest Raptors, Cowichan Bay Kayaks, Cowichan Hikers and artist Sue Coleman.

Screens also play promotional videos for local businesses and the award-winning Once Upon a Day Cowichan.

The $1.15 million centre is part of a $2 million project that also includes improved traffic access to centre and the forest museum, sewage and drainage infrasctructure and a revamped parking lot.

Capital funding came from the Islands Coastal Economic Trust, the Duncan-Cowichan chamber, North Cowichan, Duncan and the CVRD.

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