Wake-up call for QB tourism

While School District 69 is the largest single [public sector] employer in our region, tourism is arguably the biggest private sector economic driver in Qualicum Beach. Tourism supports our restaurants, retail shops, visitor accommodation, service and recreation providers, and the real estate sector — but you’d never know it from the lacklustre marketing of Qualicum Beach as a tourist destination.

From the Town’s inadequate attention to QB’s streetscape, to the puzzling removal of many benches from around the Village core, and websites that frustrate and mislead potential visitors, Qualicum Beach seems to have dropped the ball when it comes to maintaining a reputation as a stellar tourist draw. The Town and Council have certainly contributed to QB’s de-beautification, as some are calling it, but perhaps the biggest reason for this negligence is that, in the last few years, QB seems to have farmed out the important job of tourism management and promotion to Parksville, a separate destination with competing interests and differing loyalties.

The coronavirus offers Qualicum Beach an opportunity to convert new one-time visitors into a
home-grown “renewable resource,” but only if we in Qualicum Beach take responsibility
for sustaining our tourism economy.

A prime example of QB’s negligent tourism promotion is the two-page spread that appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper’s travel section on August 22, 2020. The headline was Cool Coombs, quirky Qualicum & picturesque Parksville. Initial excitement and anticipation to see how our town fared soon gave way to puzzlement, then dismay and, finally, disbelief. Not only was there nothing quirky reported about QB, it appears that the visiting travel writer had not even set foot in town!

The Vancouver Sun article mentioned Qualicum Beach only twice, both times just a brief reference regarding its location relative to a venue in another area. Not a single QB shop, restaurant, service or tourist site was mentioned in the Vancouver Sun article. Most of the venues written up in the article were in Parksville, with a sprinkling of some regional venues. You’d think Qualicum Beach was a fictional town.

Who helped organize and pay for the writer’s trip? The Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association.

The Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, and the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce are generously supported by the taxpayers of Qualicum Beach. Each of these organizations is run by an executive director… from Parksville.

In contrast, a similar “BC staycation” promotion piece ran in the September 5, 2020 Vancouver Sun entitled Tofino & Ucluelet are back in business. In this article however, restaurants, services, shops and visitor accommodations from both Tofino and Ucluelet were featured, in equal measure. Both of the Vancouver Sun articles were written by the same person.

QB tourism websites frustrate and mislead

Qualicum Beach gets short shrift on the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism website as well. Browsing through the PQBT website’s drop down list of various amenities reveals the restaurants, services and features in the region that visitors might be interested in. However, many Qualicum Beach restaurants, services and other amenities are not listed at all, some of which have been in operation for many years. For example, visitors are (wrongly) told that QB apparently has only two coffee shops: the Milner Gardens tea room, and The Courtyard Cafe; that QB has no pubs or lounges; and, that there is only one grocery store in QB (Quality [sic] Foods). Yet, oddly, the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism site lists businesses in Nanaimo, Tofino and Campbell River, all outside our regional catchment area.

If you click on the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism’s website [Home  > About > Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism], you will see a message that says, “*Please note that Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism does not operate a Visitor Centre at this [Parksville] location. Click here for Visitor Centres in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.” Click on the link and it takes you to a page headed “Why Visit?” touting the tourist delights of the region, but which makes no mention of Visitor Centres. I finally found a link for Visitor Centres, half way down the drop down list under About. The hours posted there do not match the hours posted at the QB Visitor Centre.

The promotional photo used by Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism website
to promote QB’s Waterfront.

Only a couple QB “sights” are featured on the PQBT website’s home page, the Qualicum Beach Waterfront being one. If more evidence is needed to demonstrate the sub-standard treatment of Qualicum Beach promotion, check out the drab photo that the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism site uses to showcase QB’s waterfront. Contrast this photo with the photos used to promote Parksville beaches and amenities. Apart from the dull, unattractive image (not the child), this photo is not remotely recognizable as being QB’s iconic waterfront.

We could go on, but the list of errors and omissions is exhausting. This apparent pattern of neglect by Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism benefits Parksville at the expense of Qualicum Beach, literally.

The Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce is not much better at promoting QB.

Click on the QB Chamber of Commerce Visitors link and you will see a lovely beach shot. Too bad it’s not a photo of any of the beaches around Qualicum Beach. Tofino, maybe? Under transportation, the QB Chamber website lists daily flights with KD Air and Greyhound bus service, both of which ceased operation at least 18 months ago. Looking for recreation ideas? Click on the QB Chamber of Commerce Visitors link, then Activity Guide and then Recreation, and you will be directed away from QB, to Mount Arrowsmith, Cathedral Grove, Englishman River Falls, and Horne Lake Caves.

What specifically does the QB Chamber’s Recreation section mention about QB itself? That “Qualicum Beach is a hub of recreational activities for visitors of all activity levels,” and “for more information click on the Town’s Recreation and Parks Guide.” No link provided here either. Checking the Town’s website, this Guide appears to be a paper version only, not electronic, so if you’re visiting Qualicum Beach on a weekend, you’re out of luck.

Signage on the door at the QB Visitor Centre on Sunday, September 20, 2020.

Birding is a noted activity on the Chamber’s Recreation page, for which visitors are told there is a seasonal bird checklist available at the QB Visitor Centre (again, no link or contact information given). QB’s Beach Day is mentioned under Water Activities as being on, “… July 15, 2018 this year. Be sure to stop by the Qualicum Beach Visitors Centre at 2711 Island Highway West for more information.” Apart from a two-year-old event listing masquerading as current information, there is no link to the Visitor Centre or info about its days/hours of operation here either.

Qualicum Beach is an excellent shopping destination. The Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce website says “Qualicum Beach is open for business.” Good, I think, and scroll down a bit further to “Current Business Services” available as of July 14, 2020, where I’m directed to this link: supporting-oceanside-businesses.com for businesses. The link takes me to the Parksville Chamber of Commerce site with a mind-boggling spreadsheet of businesses from up and down Vancouver Island! Not about to plow through that, I cycle back to the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce site, and click on Directory which lists shops, services and other businesses. In the hodge-podge of listings are grocery stores and car dealerships that aren’t located in QB, and even some businesses that don’t appear to actually exist (in QB or anywhere else), e.g. Fox ‘n Rhino Vineyards?? Not the best advertisement for one of QB’s biggest draws — shopping. I eventually found the phone number and email address for the QB Visitor Centre on the QB Chamber website… but not the days/hours of operation, or location.

The Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, and the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce are generously supported by the taxpayers of Qualicum Beach. Each of these organizations is run by an executive director… from Parksville. In fact, the executive director for the Parksville Chamber of Commerce is the same person who also runs the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce! It is not a surprise that hometown loyalties might surface.

Call us the Best Bloomin’ Town on Vancouver Island?

Town amenities are critical for sustaining a tourism economy. Yet recently, the bloom has come off our Qualicum Beach rose.

Operated by the QB Chamber of Commerce, the only Visitor Centre in Qualicum Beach is located at the waterfront, far from the main approach to town, and far from the town’s commercial core as well. Several weekends ago, on a busy, sunny afternoon at QB’s waterfront, many people came up to the Visitor Centre, only to find it locked. A sign on the door says that it is open only Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. However, the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism website states that the QB Visitor Centre is open “Monday to Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm”). Sigh.

Signage on door of (locked) public washrooms located between Qualicum Foods parking lot and Leigh House gardens, at 5:30 pm August 20, 2020.

One wonders why there isn’t a visitor centre operating in one of the empty storefronts in QB’s Village core, or in a pop-up kiosk inside a prominently located downtown business that stays open during the weekends.

To its credit, the Town provides attractive, clean public washrooms, if one can find them (we could see no listing on websites, or town signage directing visitors to locations). Also, on September 20, several visitors were frustrated when they finally stumbled on the public washrooms located between the Qualicum Foods parking lot and Leigh House. The sign on the door said the washroom was open until 9 PM, however these tourists found the door locked at 5:30 PM. After waiting, then knocking and having no response, the visitors left, wondering if nearby restaurants might offer them the use of their toilet facilities.

The QB Chamber of Commerce website touts the “beauty” of Qualicum Beach, “Call us the best bloomin’ town on Vancouver Island!” oddly positioned under the website’s Activities section. Citing the town’s reputation for winning competitions in past years, the Chamber boasts, “The judges look[ed] at landscaped and turf areas, heritage conservation, urban forestry, environmental effort and community involvement. We have proven ourselves winners in every category, so come judge for yourself!”

Abandoned Qualicum Foods shopping cart has been sitting across from QB Community Hall and the tennis courts for at least a week.

It’s unlikely we’d win such awards now. As we reported recently, the Town gave away bedding plants purchased for hanging baskets claiming that there were no resources to plant and water them — while 25 large concrete street planters, fully planted and watered for months, still languish in a dank corner of QB’s parks yard instead of gracing the streets and commercial venues of our village core. The unkempt, weedy flower and shrub beds and dying trees were, and still remain, another black eye in the community this season. Benches have been inexplicably removed from half a dozen sites around the Village core, tall stands of our town’s urban forest have been clear-cut to replace woodland trails with hard surfaces, and shopping carts from Qualicum Foods have been noted lying around near the QB Community Hall on Memorial Avenue for over a week.

Opportunity awaits — if QB’ers take the reins of our tourism economy

The Vancouver Sun article, Cool Coombs, Quirky Qualicum and Picturesque Parksville was a failed marketing effort and a missed opportunity for Qualicum Beach, one that probably resulted in considerable lost revenue for our town’s businesses and citizens.

However, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the tourist season here is still going strong. Even better news is that the tourist season is likely to be extended this year because Canadians who typically head south or go abroad for the winter will want to visit somewhere “warmer” without having to leave the country. That’s us. Let’s dress up the town, fix our visitor amenities, from websites to washrooms and weeds, and put our best collective foot forward.

The coronavirus offers Qualicum Beach an opportunity to convert new one-time visitors into a home-grown “renewable resource,” but only if we in Qualicum Beach take responsibility for sustaining our tourism economy.

Related stories: Town beautification kicks into gear — at the end of August? and Readers question Mayor’s rationale for lack of Town beautification