Bella Coola Valley Tourism President Doug Baker welcomes BC Tourism Minister Naomi Yamamoto to the MV Nimpkish on the Minister's visit to Bella Coola last spring. At the time

Visitors speak out on the failure of the ‘Nimpkish Summer; prove government wrong

As a cost-cutting measure, this summer’s “Nimpkish Solution” has failed dismally.

As a cost-cutting measure, this summer’s “Nimpkish Solution” has failed dismally.  But, as an unintended “experiment” it has performed brilliantly: This is the view of anyone concerned with the changes to the Bella Coola – Port Hardy ferry service.

This summer, the BC government replaced the 115-car MV Queen of Chilliwack, sailing directly between Bella Coola and Port Hardy as the marine link in the Discovery Coast Circle Tour, with the 16-car MV Nimpkish, connecting with the Prince Rupert ferry route at Bella Bella.

On a questionnaire conducted by Bella Coola Valley Tourism (BCVT), travelers overwhelmingly torpedoed the government and BC Ferries for the decision to deploy the oldest, smallest, and slowest vessel in the entire BC Ferries fleet on the third longest route.  The move would save the ferry corporation $725,000 that it claimed was the net cost of operating the service with the larger Chilliwack. Critics of the cut say that service might have generated a profit if it had been properly managed.

The ferry corporation’s “Nimpkish Solution” has backfired resoundingly: Many travelers already booked on the Circle Tour found there was no room on the tiny vessel and had to change their plans drastically, flying out or retracing their drive back down Vancouver Island or back across the Chilcotin.

Those who did squeeze onto the vessel soon discovered they were cramped for nine hours on a boat with uncomfortably low bus-bench seating, little space to stretch their legs, one difficult-to-access washroom at the bottom of the steep, narrow stairway to the car deck, constant shuddering and engine noise, and the minimal, complimentary, food service.  Many expressed safety concerns.

On the questionnaire, many said their “Nimpkish Experience” was redeemed only by the spectacular scenery, the favourable weather, and the efforts of the vessel’s crew who did their best in an embarrassing situation.  Many travelers decried the damage being done to the tourism industry and the effect this would have on the obviously struggling economy here.

The BCVT questionnaire data are being analysed by two professional research firms.  The traveler comments are available on-line by contacting info@bellacoola.ca.

In other developments related to the failed “Nimpkish Solution”, the industry has identified a group to work with government and BC Ferries to recommend alternatives to the “Nimpkish Solution” in time to salvage part of the 2015 tourist season.  There are recent indications that Tourism Minister Naomi Yamamoto might reconsider her decision not to form the “working group” she promised last spring but decided not to create because of regional “hostility”.

Responding to industry concerns, Transportation Minister Todd Stone directed $100,000 for marketing the region in 2014. None of this money was used to promote the Circle Tour because the agency that spent the funds did not deem the Nimpkish marine link “export ready”.

Last month, Minister Stone reviewed in glowing terms his personal experience on the August 6 Nimpkish cruise he took with his family to Bella Coola. He was visibly dismayed upon learning of traveler complaints. (The new seating and free food services on the vessel – scorned by many passengers responding to the BCVT questionnaire – had been installed at his direction.)

Stone has said his “Nimpkish Solution” to BC Ferries’ financial woes can work if BC Ferries improves the vessel further and if the Nimpkish marine link in the Circle Tour can be better marketed. He blames the industry for driving travelers away with their criticism. He recognizes that the tiny boat was full to capacity most of the summer.

Industry experts point out that European travel agencies require many months for bookings and two or three years of reliable fare and scheduling information. The “Nimpkish Solution” failed in 2014 and threatens the 2015 season. Experts say November 15 is the latest date for such information to be distributed in Europe in order to salvage even a small part of the 2015 season.

For many months, critics have repeatedly described the “Nimpkish Solution” as “ill advised, poorly timed, short-sighted, and badly managed”. Last November, West Chilcotin Tourism Association President Bill Van Es told a government/BC Ferries panel:  “You have come up with a way to save so much money, and it’s up to us to prove you wrong.”

Visitors to the region have done just that: They have blown the “Nimpkish Solution” out of the water by providing hard, irrefutable, evidence that the “Solution” is a band-aid – poorly applied by the government to a serious BC Ferries wound.  If the “Nimpkish Solution” has been an unintended experiment, BC’s decision makers now have undeniable results to act upon.

Note: Ministers Stone and Yamamoto have received the 36 pages of passenger complaints about their Nimpkish Experiences and were invited to respond, but had not done so by press time.