We need a tourism plan, says Blue River’s Mike Wiegele.
That plan should be long-term, 50 years at least. It should involve all of what he calls the “Yellowhead Corridor” – the communities from Kamloops to Mount Robson.
“The North Thompson Valley has been left sleeping,” Wiegele said. “We have to wake it up.”
Tourism has the potential to provide an economic base that is more sustainable and more consistent than the resource industries, he felt.
However, achieving that potential would require a good deal of cooperation by those in the tourist industry and coordination with various levels of government.
The modern tourist industry requires well-trained and educated personnel that provide the highest standards, the Blue River heli-ski operator said. In order to retain those people, the communities in the corridor need sophisticated and well-structured infrastructures.
The resource industries provide well paying jobs but they also tend to move in boom and bust cycles, Wiegele said. They do not create the sort of stable communities that tourism needs to flourish.
“Over time, mountain resort development and tourism have proven to be the most consistent and reliable industry in the corridor,” he said. “Because of the world class natural attributes in the region, tourism has proven to be an increasingly important and stable component in this area’s tax base. It creates and sustains jobs on a year round basis.” Another advantage the region has is the progressive thinking by Simpcw First Nation, the traditional occupiers of the land.
“We’re friends. It’s an excellent relationship,” Wiegele said. “They don’t want something for nothing. What they want is the same opportunities that everyone else has.”
He gave as an example the Albreda Lodge, a $7 million investment built in 2004 as a partnership between Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing and Simpcw First Nation.
The Blue River heli-ski business has been working on its Saddle Mountain project for several years. The next phase would include construction of a $20 million lodge on the mountain to the east of town.
Longer term, the company has its Eight Peaks Development Plan, which would see a network of vertically-oriented logging cutblocks organized to create ski runs in a circle around Blue River.
A major obstacle for his business has been security of tenure, Wiegele said.
“Would government expect a forestry company to invest $20 million in a sawmill if it weren’t guaranteed to have wood supply for the mill?” he asked.
Wiegele gave Austria as a precedent for the kind of strategy he is proposing. There, the government and European Union have created tourism development programs and support the industry through grants, tax breaks and development initiatives. In return, the government benefit through higher quality offerings, improved infrastructure, a safer environment, happier customers, growth in visitation and more successful businesses.
Other precedents would include the Canadian Badlands Tourism Development Strategy.
An economic development roundtable held in Valemount early in July could be seen as a first step in the process, Wiegele said.
He sees the next step as the formation of working committee of business leaders and entrepreneurs from Kamloops to Mount Robson to carry the tourism strategy forward.