Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows should no longer be partnered in tourism, advises from Maple Ridge city staff.
Lino Siracusa, the new manager of economic development, prepared a report advising Maple Ridge council to allow the Tourism Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows contract to expire at the end of December. He said a breakdown of the tourism society’s budget reveals that only $8,100 of the $35,000 contribution from Maple Ridge is spent on marketing activities, while the rest covers payroll, administration and operating costs.
“Activity at the existing Visitors Information Centre located at Harris Road is of little if any value, as the vast majority of visitors obtain information online and through social media sources,” Siracusa said in the report.
In an interview, he went further, and called a visitor’s centre “an antiquated approach,” particularly because travelers have to get off the Lougheed Highway to visit it.
“We think we could use that $35,000 in a better way,” he said.
“We will be able to get significantly more marketing out of that.”
Last week, Maple Ridge announced it would be terminating its partnership with Pitt Meadows in another area – parks and recreation services.
Kristina Gervais, the executive director of the tourism office for the past five years, said she was surprised that Maple Ridge will not renew the agreement.
“We’ve had nothing but praise for the work we have done,” she said.
That work is tourism marketing, attracting visitors, public awareness, operating the visitor’s centre and establishing an online presence. It is financed by both cities contributing $35,000 each, and the province funding another $10,000.
She said social media and the online presence are more important than the visitor’s centre. The centre had 11,000 visitors last year, which is not insignificant, but the Facebook Page has 3,700 followers, and the website has had 90,000 visitors in the last 12 months.
So she disagreed with putting an $8,100 price on the services the tourism society provides.
Gervais said the tourism society joins with four other municipalities in the Circle Farm Tour, so its $4,000 contribution is leveraged into $50,000 worth of promotion. Similarly, a $1,000 contribution to the Scenic 7 promotional program about Lougheed Highway communities results in $30,000 worth of promotion.
“They get pretty good bang for their buck,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to build partnerships, because we know their value.”
She said tourism is a $12 billion industry in B.C.
“So there are a lot of government organizations that like to help tourism groups succeed.”
Maple Ridge will handle tourism “in-house,” but Pitt Meadows is left at a crossroads.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said he plans to meet with Gervais later this week to get her perspective.
“We’ll have to take a look at what we can do to facilitate economic development here in Pitt Meadows,” he said.
Coun. Bill Dingwall was critical of Pitt Meadows for the parks and recreation deal being cancelled, and blames public criticism of the 18 per cent salary increases for senior parks and rec staff for causing a rift.
He said these cancelled partnerships are symptoms of a damaged relationship between the two cities.
Becker rejected that.
“I disagree with his assessment,” responded Becker. “You have two new councils look at the old ways of doing things. Those ways make sense in some areas, and not in others.”
He characterized the relationship as changing, not deteriorating.
On Thursday, the two cities will discuss their partnership in managing the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport. Pitt Meadows previously asked Maple Ridge to step away from running the facility, but the later refused.
The Pitt Meadows Airport Society is allowed to hold its meetings in private. Becker will not attend the meeting due to a conflict. He declined to say what is on Thursday’s agenda, other than that the two sides will continue to operate the airport that benefits Pitt Meadows and the region.
Pitt Meadows Coun. Tracy Miyashita says a healthier political relationship between the two cities would see its partnerships continue.
“I just think there’s so many benefits to doing these things together. It’s sad,” she said. “This is all about the communication and relationship, and, in the end, I think it’s our communities that suffer.”
She said there is no doubt the two communities can provide services separately, but said “we’re stronger together.”
“We need to set egos aside, and work together for the good of our two communities.”
Coun. Corisa Bell, who is on Maple Ridge’s economic advisory commission, said she expected the tourism breakup to be endorsed by council Tuesday.
But she denied the decision was political.
“Absolutely not. This is more a conversation of how we can review the effectiveness of our tourism dollars.”
She said Maple Ridge’s situation has changed, because Siracusa brings new insights into how to market the city, and because Pitt Meadows’ population will essentially peak at 22,000.
“They are capped. We’re going to continue to grow for many years.”
Siracusa said his report is based on the merits of the partnership.
“It’s reviewing how our $35,000 is being spent, and can we get a better bang for our buck.”