Tourism Harrison delivered some good news and some bad news at Monday night’s council meeting.
The bad news is that Harrison Hot Springs, along with the rest of the B.C., has been experiencing a downward trend in visitor numbers.
“Since 2008, it’s been very difficult all around the world, because of the financial crisis,” the board’s executive director Robert Reyerse said during a presentation to council.
There were decreases across the board in 2012, with the most difficulty being enticing American and European to the resort destination.
However, while Vancouver saw a nine per cent drop over the last year, Harrison saw a two per cent decline.
“It’s a downward trend, and it’s a trned we need to face and deal with,” added Ian Maw, director of sales and marketing for Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa.
And the good news is that Tourism Harrison is working hard to find innovative ways to increase interest in the village as a resort destination.
“We’ve been focusing on the Vancouver market and the Fraser Valley market,” Reyerse said. But those potential “heads in beds” also travel to the U.S. instead of Harrison for their mini-vacations.
So, they’ve launched some new marketing ideas, including “outdoor advertising super boards”, in the form of lit signs at the entrance to the Patullo Bridge in Vancouver to “increase their marketing impact.
They’ve also created a Chinese-language website that looks almost entirely like their English website. That is to help extend their reach into the booming Asian market in Richmond, particularly. As people move into Canada, many are unaware of where Harrison Hot Springs is, Reyerse explained, and they need to continue focusing on marketing for this reason.
“We need to get them out here,” and exploring the natural beauty of the area, to keep them returning. The more people who stay in Harrison, the better the budget is, he explained.
Tourism Harrison receives a bulk of its budget (85 per cent) from RMI funds, the two per cent tax collected by accommodation providers.
Annually, the board has a budget of about $400,000, where a community like Whistler has anywhere from $4 – $5 million to work with.
They have also branched out to not only promote events that happen in Harrison, but to help create them. Two new events this year include the very successful Sasquatch Days, and the upcoming Harrison Beer Festival. They also took over the Slow Food Cycle Tour, and kept the Bands on the Beach event going for a second year.
“Events are a risky business,” Reyerse said. “You don’t know if they’re going to succeed” and they are labour intensive.
Tourism Harrison has two full time employees, Reyerse and Erin Goosen, along with two part time employees.
Finally, they’ve also brought back the Sasquatch in a big way. Hot Springs Harry is a new feature on the Tourism Harrison website and in other communications.
All of these initiatives have been done in the hopes of bringing overnight guests back to town, filling up the beds, along with creating memorable experiences for guests that will encourage them to return.