Despite wildfires and the subsequent impact on tourism across the province, tourism numbers in Harrison Hot Springs increased last year, according to a presentation from Tourism Harrison executive director Robert Reyerse at a Harrison council meeting Feb. 19.
With hotel occupancy up three per cent to 69.5 per cent at an average rate of $164 per night, Harrison was on track with average tourism numbers across the province and saw a 24 per cent increase in visitor centre traffic – where B.C.-wide numbers saw these visits drop by one per cent.
“The smoke in August slowed things down a little bit but not enough to really make a dent,” Reyerse said. “Overall we’re still up so I was really happy with that.”
Reyerse credited social media and a new mobile advertising approach for the solid numbers as he presented a 31 per cent increase between 2016 and 2017 in visits to the Tourism Harrison website. With nearly 1,000 visitors to the site every day and more than 50 per cent coming as mobile traffic, Reyerse said social media dominates as a tool to engage visitors and used the example of the successful #JustUptheRoad hashtag that spread across social media platforms over the summer months.
While 2017 was ultimately successful for the Village’s tourism industry, Reyerse said there are still challenges. In fact, the “average” numbers Reyerse reported are heavily influenced by the Harrison Hot Springs Resort. Without the resort, annual occupancy is under 40 per cent – a dip from the provincial average of 70 per cent.
One issue, said Reyerse, is visitor perception of the public hot springs.
Because the Harrison Hot Springs Resort has an ownership lease over the hot springs, the Village is unable to update or alter the public pool and Reyerse said he sees many disappointed by what they find – a building from the 60s without any major renovations.
“It’s a pretty basic building and it doesn’t have that sort of natural feel that people are looking for,” Reyerse said. “People want The Blue Lagoon.’”
Since upgrades aren’t an option, Reyerse said Tourism Harrison wants to “adjust expectations.”
“When we’re marketing this year, we’re going to try to focus on it more as a… sort of a European “bathhouse,” he explained. “If you talk about a bathhouse then your expectations are different than if you think about, you know, a natural hot springs.”
“If [we] had a great pool, all the other motels would probably be full,” he added.
Another challenge is drawing visitors in the winter months, said Reyerse. “The off-season is a struggle for many smaller properties, bringing the average down,” he wrote in his report.
But Tourism Harrison has a plan to turn the two-month period between November and the end of January into a more successful time for hotels and businesses. This year it will introduce a new Christmas Trail event, a re-imagination of the “Celebration of Trees” event that was held exclusive to the Harrison Hot Springs Resort.
The new event will work with businesses in the Village to create a Christmas tree trail that takes visitors to different decorated trees at a variety of locations – creating a Christmas experience for customers that incorporates the whole Village.
Another 2018 Christmas initiative will be a light display.
“[Harrison] is a pretty well-decorated Christmas light destination at this point,” he said. “We want to take it to the next level.”
A walkway around the Lagoon will include a “12 Days of Christmas” display, and with time, the Village hopes to acquire more lights and decorations to create a display similar to the “Lights at Lafarge Winter Lights Display” in Coquitlam, according to Reyerse.
“Working with the Village we hope to turn the two month Christmas period into a new peak occupancy time of the hotels, restaurants and retail operations.”