Sidney business group re-opens visitor information centre

SBIA plans more interactive, inclusive tourist promotions and assistance in downtown Sidney.

Sidney town Councillor Cam McLennan and SBIA chair Susan Simosko cut the ribbon to re-open the Sidney Information Centre.

The Sidney Business Improvement Area (SBIA) Society has officially re-opened the town’s visitor information centre this week.

On Monday, SBIA members, volunteers, Town Crier Kenny Podmore, Town councillors and staff, MLA Gary Holman and MP Elizabeth May were on hand to cut the ribbon.

The SBIA took over the municipality’s visitor services contract on Dec. 31, 2016. Their plans for visitor services were outlined in a Jan. 6 story in the News Review. (See story below.)

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SBIA takes on visitor services

Visitors to Sidney this year can expect more of the personal touch, even as a new tourist services provider turns to more online information delivery.

As of Dec. 31, the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society (SBIA) assumed the contract for visitor information services for the Town of Sidney. They take over from the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, which did not pursue the contract after holding it for years.

Sidney had asked for innovative ways to attract visitors to the community and the SBIA believes it has the  answer.

“Our goal is to enhance the experience for visitors and local customers,” said Donna Petrie, SBIA executive director.

“Donna has come up with a Sidney-centric experience,” added SBIA Chair Susan Simosko.

Simosko said the SBIA went after the contract because it was a natural fit with their goals of “getting more feet in the street” of downtown Sidney. She added they spoke with the Town’s Events Advisory Group prior to bidding on the contract and that group — made up of most of the community’s main tourist destinations and organizations — said it was a good fit.

The SBIA, which was already located in the Beacon Avenue visitor information building, is changing the interior configuration. The Town is renovating and repainting the space, where the SBIA will have volunteers — holdovers from the Chamber years — greeting the public. The centre is set to officially re-open on Jan. 16 at 11 a.m.

There were 14,987 visitors to the centre in 2016, according to statistics from Destination B.C. and presented by the SBIA. The Washington State Ferry Terminal visitor kiosk (which the SBIA will retain) saw 6,449 visitors last year. In addition, event services workers (volunteers who attended local events) recorded 10,065 visitors.

The Pat Bay Highway visitor centre, which is operated by the Chamber still, saw 30,503 visitors in 2016.

The SBIA has come up with seven ways to enhance Sidney’s visitor services in 2017.

1. Improved training.  Simosko said volunteers will be given more information themselves, on local events and businesses, to share with visitors.

2. Free information card racking at the centre for SBIA members, helping save members money.

3. Improving the SBIA’s website. There are plans in the works to add a live chat feature, enabling volunteers to interact with potential tourists to help plan their trip to Sidney. The program, Petrie said, will enable visitors  to the website to collect their destinations in a checkout-style format.

“It makes it all really personal and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Petrie said.

4. The SBIA will continue to provide visitor services at the Town’s Washington State Ferry Terminal.

5. Ambassador program, or street team. The SBIA has committed to continue this program and offer its volunteers enhanced ways of working with visitors — including utility belts armed with a mobile phone, first aid supplies and even a portable electronic device charging station. They will also be handing out Sidney-branded post cards and buttons.

6. No Tickets For Tourists Program. Simosko said the SBIA has created a budget to pay for parking tickets given to Sidney visitors. They will give people maps of the Town’s long-term parking areas.

“This can go a long way,” added Petrie. “It can give people a neat story to tell after visiting our beautiful small town.”

7. This One’s On Sidney. Another program to benefit visitors, it would see SBIA street team volunteers surprise people by paying for their coffee, lunch, a book, or whatever. Simosko said they plan on filming these interactions to use on social media. It’s another item with a budget of its own for 2017.

Simosko pointed out that all of these visitor services initiatives are paid for out of the contract money from the Town of Sidney, tourism funding from Destination BC and extra revenue generated at the visitor centre. None of it, she said, is being paid for out of the SBIA’s requisition from businesses.

While its visitor services have a Sidney-specific focus, they add looking further afield to Central and North Saanich is a natural mix. Information on activities, destinations, culinary sites and more — Beyond Sidney — will be a secondary focus of the new visitor services plan.

Petrie added she’s working with Tourism Victoria, Sooke, Sidney and the Cowichan Valley on a circle tour promotion. If successful for 2017, it could be a $100,000 marketing program, with Destination BC footing the majority of the bill.

(— Steven Heywood/News staff. Printed Jan. 6/17)

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