It’s been a cold and rainy start but summer tourist season is starting to pick up in Bella Coola. The Visitor Information Booth and Copper Sun Gallery, in its third season in the downtown location, has become the main spot for visitors looking to get information on Bella Coola and the surrounding area.
Many can remember the situation last year when beds were at an all time shortage and Bella Coola Valley Tourism members were desperately trying to find accommodation for dozens of people who had come in peak bear-viewing season.
“By the end of the 2016 season, the visitor information booth logged in 1298 visitors which was up from 809 in 2015,” said Tom Hermance, BCVT President. “As an accommodations owner, I definitely saw an uptick in 2016 over 2015. Since the website make-over and active social media campaigns, BCVT has seen a steady increase in web traffic and email activity.”
BCVT is predicting that, same as 2016, a lack of beds will be an issue once again at peak times during the summer.
“If anyone has considered earning money with a summer rental, the time has never been better. It could be renting a spare bedroom, renovating an out-building or building that tree house you’ve always wanted,” he said. “Our demographics prefer unique, experience-based accommodations; rustic but with modern comforts. Log cabins and historic recreations are popular as well as creative accommodations such as yurts, tree houses or tree tents. BCVT is encouraging people to take that step and think about starting a small business.”
Hermance said that most people are arriving by road and that so far, 50 more people have stopped in the visitor information booth than at this point last year. They are expecting traffic to pick up even more next year as drivers and RV’s to take advantage of the resurrected circle route.
He said the most popular activities are bear watching and hiking, and noted that there has been a substantial interest in Nuxalk art and culture in the past three years.
“Most everyone wants to see bears. And being a coastal town, there is a real demand for marine tour operators, especially later in the season,” he said. “Online visitors often leave comments of appreciation for the hiking trails and service roads.”
The announcement of the return of the direct sailing from Port Hardy to Bella Coola in 2018 was welcome news for tourism operators from Northern Vancouver Island all the way through to the Central Cariboo. The loss of the route saw a massive downturn in business all across the region, and its return is being anxiously anticipated.
“Next year we expect an increase of around 50 percent with a gradual increases until the route becomes established, said Hermance. “When the service was cut in 2014, we saw a 70 percent drop in reservations that summer. With the ferry route restored, we should exceed pre-2014 levels in one to two years.”
Summer service is scheduled to begin in 2018 and the 10-hour sailing will run from mid-June through mid-September, with the possibility of extension.