Tourism office on Harris Road closing

In just a few weeks from now, the Visitor Centre on Harris Road will close and the job of developing tourism ...

In just a few weeks from now, the Visitor Centre on Harris Road will close and the job of developing tourism in Maple Ridge will fall to the economic development office within city hall.

And while the city says it can do that by giving those duties to an existing employee, it’s more work than it seems, says the present executive-director of Tourism Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Who’s going to actually find the information about things to do and see and then post it online and draw tourists from near and far so that Maple Ridge gets its share of tourism dollars, asks Kristina Gervais, executive-director of the centre for the past five years.

“My take on it is, yes, most of our work is done online.

“But who puts that information online? It’s a huge amount of work to be continually updating your online sources.”

Gervais’s office is closing Dec. 18, and as of Dec. 31, Tourism Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will cease to exist.

Also shutting down is the website, which in the past 12 months drew 90,455 visitors and 165,787 page views.

“Our audience was huge and all that is gone and they’re starting over.”

Maple Ridge council voted Oct. 27 not to renew the contract with Duckworth Management and Tourism Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Lino Siracusa, manager of economic development for Maple Ridge, says the $35,000 contribution from Maple Ridge will now be spent directly on marketing tourism.

The City of Pitt Meadows put in the same amount while the province added $10,000.

Siracusa’s report to council said only $8,100 of the $35,000 from Maple Ridge was spent on marketing, while the rest was spent on overhead.

Gervais said she wanted a stand-alone, non-profit organization, supported by both cities, but led by those in the tourism industry, to market both cities, as other regions do.

She said the visitor’s centre was on track to use the $70,000 it receives yearly from both cities and leveraging that into $192,000 worth of joint tourism marketing programs.

“We’re competing against the Fraser Valley for visitors, Squamish, North Shore. They’re going to wipe us off the map.”

Having that role done on a part-time basis won’t work, she said.

“I’ve been told by a councillor it’s a purely political decision. It had nothing to do with our performance. It was politics.”

But Mayor Nicole Read said the decision had nothing to do with politics.

“That was a recommendation that council received from our economic development manager.”

And it made sense to do it within city hall, she added.

Last year, the centre drew 10,126 visitors.

Maple Ridge also recently cancelled its joint-use recreation agreement with Pitt Meadows.

Siracusa said tourism promotion will now be managed out of his office, drawing on help from other city departments.

“It’s an existing staff position.”

He added that a big part of the visitor centre was providing information and pamphlets to motorists. Pamphlets will now be distributed out of recreation facilities or the library.

He added that the biggest part of tourism development is the online presence. The city can do that, he said, adding the city will still take part in regional tourism promotion.

“Once the Tourism Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows office closes, we’ll be able to fill the gap.”

 

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