Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce re-examines its role

Business organization taking fresh look at meeting the needs of members.

Sidney’s info centre on Beacon Avenue.

With the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society taking over tourist information services in Sidney after the end of December, 2016,  the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is looking to re-invent itself in some respects.

Doug Walker, a director with the Chamber, spoke with the District of Central Saanich council recently, on where the Chamber is and its plans for the future.

Walker said both the Chamber and SBIA are looking to provide visitor information services in the new year. The Town of Sidney earlier this year decided not to renew the Chamber’s contract at the municipality’s Beacon Avenue          information centre. In a bid process, the Chamber decided not to enter, and the SBIA was successful. Walker did praise  the SBIA for being energetic and positive in stepping in and offering an expanded set of services.

Yet, he admitted there is an apparent duplication of services.

“It’s a little confusing to us still, as I suspect it might be to you, as to where does the boundaries sit between the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society when it comes to offering visitor information,” he said, adding it’s still uncertain to both parties.

Walker said the Chamber is not interested in competing with the SBIA.

“We welcome the involvement of the (SBIA). If they are willing to carry forward the mantle for offering tourist information services, that’s great. That’s a service that’s great value to, we believe everyone on the Peninsula.”

Walker added the Chamber board recognizes they have a need to clarify who will do what around the Peninsula.

The Chamber has had a service agreement with Destination BC for the last 30 years and was obligated to carry tourist information for the Peninsula and other regions.

Walker said that over time, they found that was starting to create a disproportionate draw on their resources.

Last year, when the Town of Sidney decided it wanted to revisit the contract, it was a straightforward decision for the Chamber to not bid.

“We felt that we would like to come back to our roots, which are to represent the interest of businesses on the Peninsula, regardless of what sector they’re operating in,” said Walker.

He said this allows them to have a broader advocacy role for all businesses who are members of the Chamber and not have that skewed to one sector — tourism related businesses.

The Chamber has rebranded their visitor centre — located on the Pat Bay Highway — as the Saanich Peninsula Information Centre.

“This is not simply a tourist information centre, however we recognize that we’re going to get a lot of tourists dropping in here.”

They will focus on providing information about member businesses on the Peninsula.

Included are the municipalities of Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich. Walker said they are interested in trying to represent them.

They entered into a services contract with North Saanich and it’s similar to the contract he floated to Central Saanich — which they declined.

“A big part of what we’re doing there is developing a community information strategy for the municipality of North Saanich.”

The Chamber also has signage and materials coming to them at the information centre to do that.

“We also want to use the site for some more specific community events,” said Walker.

These could include food trucks, artisans kiosks and more.

The most recent statistics for visitors dates back to last year’s season, with over 45,000 visitors through the Pat Bay Highway location.

Walker said one of the things they heard in response to the presentations he made to the three municipalities, was people were interested in an emphasis placed on serving local Chamber member businesses.

“We have a disproportionate share of the members of the Chamber of Commerce actually come from the Town of Sidney as a percentage of the total number of businesses that are there.”

Within the last year, the Chamber has been working through new business license lists and are looking at enhanced membership activities.

A copy of their directory along with their flat map is being revamped among other things.

Councillor Zeb King asked what the main measure of success was for the Chamber, to which Walker said they don’t have a certain percentage they’re trying to achieve.

He said the Chamber believes having a healthy business community is critical to having a healthy society, but that it’s difficult for them to quantify that.

Coun. Alicia Holman wanted to know what percentage of the Chamber’s membership is currently located in Central Saanich.

Although he couldn’t give quantitative numbers, Walker said their sense is they are under serving both North and Central Saanich.