B.C. communities scrambling to reinforce tourism message 

Whistler is not alone as it struggles with the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America.

"There isn?t a community that hasn?t been affected," Prince George Coun. Don Zurowski said Tuesday at a conference of business and civic leaders held in Whistler this week.

The airport in Prince George was closed for days, he said, and there was real concern about how tourism would be affected.

Tourism is the fourth biggest industry in the region.

Zurowski hopes there is a silver lining to the American tragedy.

"We are not looking to capitalize on the pain, but we believe there will be opportunity and we will sustain more of our tourism within our province and out country," he said.

"We believe that the Americans will understand that we are a very safe place to visit."

Zurowski was attending a conference with 300 other members of the Community Futures Development Corporation, which assists communities in rural Canada in developing and implementing innovative strategies for dealing with a changing economic environment.

But conference attendee George Lerchs of Tahsis, Vancouver Island, is concerned not enough is being done to get the message out that we are safe.

Most of the tourists in his area are Americans, and tourism is the third largest sector of the economy.

"We have to get the message across that it is a safe destination," he said.

"In fact travellers are being told quite the contrary, that there are all sorts of terrorists coming in and out of the country.

"We have a chance now to tell them that you don?t have to be insecure in coming to coastal British Columbia for fishing or outdoor recreation. You are going to be safe here.

"If we don?t do anything the real danger is that they will retreat into themselves and there will much less travel outside of the United States."

One of the best ways for businesses to combat falling markets and economic uncertainty is to get together and plan strategies said Mel Cook with the CFDC for the Okanagan Similkameen region.

"Every community is going to be affected, it is just a given," he said.

"But if all our communities work together we will pull through."

The CFDC is a perfect vehicle to do this, said Cook.

"We are in the business of helping people adjust and offering them money and loans and a lot of business counselling," he said.

"When we sit around the table we have 300 years of business experience so we should be able to help people."

Luckily, tourism in the Okanagan has not been overly affected by the terrorist attacks, said Cook, because the season was drawing to a close by the middle of September.

The Okanagan is not the only place working on new strategies to combat a fall off in American tourism. The Kootenays are busy marketing the Selkirk Loop as a drive holiday for both Canadians and Americans.

"In our case we can also look at it as a potential opportunity," said Paul Wiest, general manager of the CDFC for the Kootenays.

"Being a border community we see an opportunity to capitalize on the rubber tire traffic. People, rather than committing to flying somewhere, they might take a week off and drive up so there could be an opportunity here."

Tourism Whistler is continuing a series of meetings with businesses in the community and other tourism associations before deciding what, if any, new marketing needs to be done in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

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