"Winter can be harsh, especially for those not prepared, and it has felt long this year, but it is still beautiful."
“Winter can be harsh, especially for those not prepared, and it has felt long this year, but it is still beautiful.”

By: Korie Marshall

There is a big difference between “valued” and “valuable”. Sometimes a thing that has a lot of value may not be recognized or valued by the people who are getting benefit from it.

The value of a visitor information centre is not a discussion that is exclusive to Valemount. Local resident (and TV station manager) Gord Peters told Council last week that he’s often had to argue and remind people of the value of a VIC in other communities he’s lived in, and there are studies that show they are valuable. I know this in my gut – they are valuable, and I felt it even more after spending a few hours at Valemount’s VIC last week. I do applaud Council for extending the summer season, but I would have applauded as well if they’d extended it even more, as Peters suggested, though it seemed it came down to a question of how much it would cost the tax payers.

I value council’s concern for our collective community purse, but as Mayor Andru McCracken also noted in the special meeting on Friday, it’s also a chance to show leadership – to make a decision not based entirely on what a thing will cost.

But I agree that something is missing from the discussion – some measure of how much value we getting from the VIC, and how can we improve that value. I think it is something we should look into as a community long before Adventure Management’s current contract runs out and operations for the VIC go to bid again.

I don’t think it’s necessarily about doing a study to see if visits to the centre increase stays or returns to Valemount, or increase money spent in the village. That would take time and resources, unless local businesses have historical information they’d be willing to share. I suspect a lot of businesses haven’t really been keeping track, because that takes work, and they’ve been busy running their business, or trying to improve it. Besides, there are other studies that show generally that VIC’s do increase business and stops for communities.

I actually think it’s more about education and collaboration between local businesses, and probably the local Chambers of Commerce and other associations – Tourism Valemount and Robson Valley Tourism, TOTA and Travel Northern BC, the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway Association, the Regional District’s Robson Valley Region marketing strategy. If local businesses can get help to recognize their own strengths and unique qualities, and learn how to best showcase what they offer – and recognize that the Visitor Centre is part of their marketing plan – maybe we’d all be in better place to recognize the value of what we have.

The debate over Valemount’s visitor centre is not new. I am sure it started long before the Village got funding from Columbia Basin Trust to buy the property around 1999 or 2000. I am sure it was going on in 2005, when the Village was trying to get money from the provincial Olympic Live Sites program. “Any revenues gained by the new interpretive centre would not detract from sales of our existing businesses as we would be targeting visitors who do not pause long enough to spend any time or money in our community,” said Florence Smith, Tourism/Recreation coordinator for the Village said in the 2005 annual report. Obviously the debate was going on then, and it was probably still continuing when the Village got funding from the newly created Northern Development Initiative Trust to finish the new building in 2007. Now we are still debating how to pay for it.

Maybe the debate will always continue – and that may be a good thing, because it can make us review, and update, and make sure we are getting the best value and best bang for our buck.