Thousands of visitors to the Saanich Peninsula each year are using the area’s tourist information centres but a move by the Town of Sidney could change all that.
Sidney will issue a request for proposals (RFP) later this year to seek new ways of delivering visitor services.
Currently, the Town pays the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce $60,000 a year to provide the service from its Beacon Avenue centre. Their contract, which they’ve held since April 1, 2010, expires on Dec. 31, 2016.
The Town has strongly suggested that online vacation planning has changed how tourism businesses have marketed themselves, stating “the number of people using a physical, walk-in facility is constantly declining.”
Chamber board Vice-President Doug Walker recently made a presentation to Town council, suggesting the Chamber might wish to renegotiate its contract. It’s facing a funding crunch as it struggles to operate not only the Beacon Avenue centre, but visitor services locations on the Pat Bay Highway and at the Anacortes Ferry terminal.
This, despite the approximately 65,000 people the Pat Bay centre saw come through its doors in 2015.
“There seems to be a real need for people to be able to walk in to talk to a real person,” he said, noting that this is despite the fact people have the electronic devices to find out a lot of travel information.
Walker said he has no issue with the Town issuing its RFP and they will continue on, business as usual.
However, Walker said losing the Town’s contract would put the Chamber’s visitor services in serious trouble.
The Chamber, he said, cannot support visitor services on membership dues alone and seeks out grants to supplement the Town’s contract.
That contract currently pays the salary of a full-time employee on Beacon Avenue.
Walker added the Chamber is currently surveying its members on their perceptions around offering visitor services at all.
Other municipalities served by the Chamber — Central and North Saanich — do not contribute to their visitor services.
Walker said re-tooling what the Chamber does is an option, if it wishes to continue delivering tourist information. That, he said, will be a board decision.
A call to Mayor Steve Price was not returned by press time.