A destination between destinations 

Tourism Squamish has big plans to grow the industry

It’s the sad fate of many a highway town to be little more than a pit stop on the way to someplace else. Get some gas, grab a coffee and feed the kids; there are crowds to beat.

From their perch off Highway 99, District of Squamish staff working at the Squamish Adventure Centre bear regular witness to this cold shoulder. Money doesn’t so much move through them as it does right past.

“We want to be able to stop traffic and just let them know about Squamish so that they might stay with us next time,” said Lesley Weeks, manager of tourism development with the Squamish Sustainability Corporation (SSC). “We are more than just a stop on the way home from Whistler.”

But how do you do that? With Squamish nestled between major destinations like Vancouver and Whistler, it’s easy for economic development types to view the glass as not just half empty, but totally dry, cracked and dirty — not the kind of thing you put your lips against. But that’s true pessimism. People like Weeks have learned to see Squamish’s positioning as an asset, and strategies developed accordingly are starting to hold considerable promise.

“For us to be working against Whistler doesn’t make sense,” she said. “We don’t see Whistler as competition at all. Whistler is bringing so many people to B.C., to our area, that we’re working closely with them.”

To tool an identity based on differences is the divisive stuff of broken glass. The people at SSC know this; aware though they are of the differences between the two towns, seldom do they trumpet them. It’s not good strategy.

Enter the base camp concept. Part of fledgling Tourism Squamish’s new marketing plan, the base camp idea will promote Squamish as a launch pad for outdoor adventure. Using natural blessings like the Chief and Howe Sound, and promoting them in stride with the town’s relative affordability, the district hopes to bring a new era of tourism to Squamish.

“There’s a lot of effort right now to market to the Lower Mainland to let them know we’re only 45 minutes north of Vancouver,” Weeks said. “You can stay in Squamish and play in Squamish, but also go see Whistler.”

Tourism Squamish is the vehicle in which all marketing will travel. An entity of the SSC, which in turn is beholden to the district, Tourism Squamish is the child of grant money. To continue moving towards its goal of marketing to the whole Pacific Northwest, it needs a sustainable source of revenue. That revenue may take the form of an additional hotel room tax, a plan supported by the district. Unlike the hotel taxing opportunities available to towns like Whistler, which receives a 6 per cent hotel tax because of its resort designation, Squamish would instead receive a two per cent tax. To do that, the district first needs the support of 51 per cent of hotels. Should that support shore up, the money is to be used for marketing.

“Then we take the info to council so they can see what we’re doing.”

And, while Tourism Whistler has a membership fee, Tourism Squamish doesn’t. The only prerequisite is desire.

“Anyone who’s a member would have say in the budget and what we’re doing,” Weeks said. “We’re not going with a fee model, and that’s because we want to include as many voices as we can.”

And so, cold shoulders notwithstanding, there’s a lot of excitement crackling around behind the Adventure Centre’s huge glass panes. As Tourism Squamish builds its board and attracts members, so too does it prepare for two upcoming presentations to council, one on the hotel tax, and the other this year’s marketing plan. At the same time, the province is aiming to double tourism within seven years, and the Olympics are just two full calendars away.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” said Weeks.

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