Monday, October 5, 2009

Managing our visitors?

Down in the Cove, there is a lovely cottage next to the library that has served as Bowen Island's Visitor Centre for the past few years. Visitors coming off the ferry wander up Trunk Road and stop into the cottage for maps and information about what to do on Bowen. The visitors centre is run by the Chamber of Commerce, so naturally people received brochures and information about where to spend their money on Bowen. It never felt like a pitch or a hard sell, but a friendly service.

This fall the cottage funding ran out and the Chamber wrung its hands a little about what to do. Marcus Hondro, the new editor of The Undercurrent, suggested in an editorial that Bowen Islanders step up and welcome people to the island. If you see someone wandering lost around the village, give them a hand. A kind of citizen-based welcoming committee, if you will.

I liked the idea, because the truth is that is what happens anyway. I don't think Marcus was calling for that as an actual strategy so much as he was recognizing that this is what we do as islanders, friendly people, we are.

Today, Daniel Heald, the head of the Chamber, wrote a letter in The Undercurrent though that basically rejected that approach as asking too much of islanders and he concluded by saying:

The answer is for less “kumbaya” and a more professional management of the visitor through appropriate Municipal funding.
Now I don't begrudge the visitor centre the funding they get for the service they offer, but I do have a problem with having our visitors "professionally managed" as they arrive on the island. I would hate to think that that was being done to the 18,000 that stopped in this summer. When I go to a place to visit, I HATE being professionally managed. I like being welcomed by genuine local residents, shown the ropes, maybe even offered a cost-free way to spend my time in the place.

Neighbourliness is not "kumbaya." It's actually what makes our community a pleasant place to visit. So the answer is for MORE people to welcome visitors AND for a visitor centre that offers good information to people, answers their questions and helps them find what they are looking for. Let's professionally manage our businesses and welcome our visitors instead. Let's just be a community, and not a Big Box Island Community Experience.