(100 Mile Free Press)

Fishing Highway hopes to hook marketing grant

Plans are in the works to develop a business directory.

The Fishing Highway 24 Tourist Association is seeking a $10,500 grant to put local businesses on the virtual map.

The association has applied to the Northern Development Initiative Trust for the funding to develop an online directory for businesses along Highway 24 – or “the land of hidden waters” – to help expose B.C. and international travellers to recreation opportunities in the area.

The directory, to be uploaded to the www.landofhiddenwaters.com webpage, is hoped to be completed by summer, giving visitors quick online access to local pubs and restaurants, resorts, fishing camps and lodging and resulting in more visitors and longer stays.

“Our area is amazing, it’s very unique and very diverse,” aid Irene Meili, chair of the Fishing Highway 24 Tourist Association. “We offer everything except the ocean in a very tight space but a lot of people just drive through. They come through the Rockies and rush through to Whistler. We want them to stay.”

The land of hidden waters project started four years ago with a Destination BC grant after businesses in the area felt alone in marketing themselves, Meili said, and had “zero chance to go up against Sun Peaks or the Okanagan or Whistler.”

Meili said she was surprised at how expensive it is to market businesses. The total project budget is $66,710 with financial contributions from the Fishing Highway Tourist Association, Tourism Kamloops, Lower North Thompson Tourism Society, Tourism Wells Gray, The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association, Destination BC.

The Cariboo Regional District has also included $5,000 for this project in the 2021 South Cariboo Economic Development budget.

“If you look at the businesses here, most of them are family-run businesses. It’s ‘are we going to make it, are we going to have any profits?’” said Meili. “We’re basically cooking with water up here. We need to help them market as easily as possible and as cheaply as possible.”

Meili noted many of the businesses along the highway have been struggling during COVID-19, especially with further restrictions coming in at the start of the tourist season, which only runs from May to October for most people in the area. The B.C. government announced Thursday that it would restrict non-essential travel across the province until the May long weekend.

“I fear they’re going to put another travel ban up because people aren’t listening,” she said. “If they shut us down again, it’s going to be rough. I’d rather have a late start than no start at all.”

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