CITY BRIEFS: Visitors services increasingly go online, say consultants

by Avery Zingel - July 24, 2018

Despite providing bricks-and-mortar visitors centres, many tourism destinations opt for key investments in online information and onboard destination marketing firms.

The city has two key types of visitors to cater to: set-itinerary tourists and independent travellers.

Consultants made recommendations on the future of Yellowknife’s visitors services, including a bricks-and-mortar location or taking its tourism marketing online. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

In a presentation to council, consultant Margaret McCormick of Authentic Experiences consulting made several recommendations on a possible future for tourism in Yellowknife.

That includes setting up a tourism advisory board at the city, and considering five options for visitors services: an iconic gateway visitors centre at a prime traffic area, possibly operated by a third party; a central visitors centre with storefront opportunities for local tourism; a public facility similar to the city hall visitors centre; or a new purpose-built facility. The last option, decentralization, would see visitors services with no physical centre, but instead have digital channels and mobile units distributing information at various businesses.

“Destinations across the globe are having to adapt their visitors services strategies to meet the demands of the traveller,” said consultant Deborah Kulchiski.

That includes multi-channel visitors services where visitors can source key information online when they’re at their destination.

In recognition of shifting trends away from bricks-and-mortar operations, cities are turning to mobile units for visitors services, including at events and attractions with high concentrations of visitors, said Kulchiski.

Alternatively, in cities like Reykjavik, Iceland, tourism is a public institution that partners with private sales and booking operators. The visitors centre is a pick-up and drop-off spot for bus tours.

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Reykjavik’s centre is now itself a city attraction, she said.

Whitehorse, on the other hand, is essentially removed from its tourism business.

In Campbell River and Dawson Creek, B.C., the municipalities have a fee for service contract agreement with a contractor reached through a request for proposals

The city of Campbell River keeps an arms length approach while matching funds from the three per cent tourism tax levy (approximately $250,000 annually) tourism initiatives

It has a five-year service agreement with a destination marketing operation, as does Dawson Creek which offers tourism through a for-profit sporting and events facility.

Dawson Creek provides Tourism Dawson Creek with $450,000 annually from general revenue.

Both municipalities are governed by tourism advisory committees – a recommendation made to Yellowknife city council ahead of mid-September when tourism operations running out of the city hall basement are expected to end.

Visitor spending surpassed $200-million in 2016 and 2017, with 108,500 visitors during that period, the strategy document stated.

Aurora viewing made up 27 per cent of visitors to the NWT in 2017, contributing nearly $50-million to the economy, stated the report.

Other regions where the aurora can be viewed – Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and even Scotland – are marketing aurora viewing with a greater budget than NWT Tourism or the City of Yellowknife.

The consultants recommended council establish a committee and issue requests for proposals between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31, in time for a Sept. 30 transition from visitors services in city hall.

The timelines for setting up a committee and making a decision on visitors services could be too ambitious, said Coun. Adrian Bell.

“It would be a mistake to rush forward too quickly,” said Bell. “We’re going to have some challenges with respect to finding a location. The city may want to be more involved.”

The city could extend offerings at the city hall location by a month, he said.

Coun. Rebecca Alty said rushing into a request for proposals is premature until the city knows how it wants to balance any bricks-and-mortar operations with digital marketing investments.

The city could use funding intended for a physical location to bolster digital marketing offerings, said Alty.

If the city were to move toward an iconic gateway concept, it should ensure the centre draws visitors to diverse tourism options that include the territory’s other regions, said Coun. Linda Bussey.

Consultants recommended council appoint a member to oversee the tourism portfolio and launch a new visitors services program by Sept. 24.

Workplace misconduct inquiry will cost $30-40K

The estimated price tag for the inquiry into allegations of workplace misconduct against Municipal Enforcement Department manager Doug Gillard could be between $30,000 and $40,000.

That estimate was shared by administration during Monday’s municipal service council, and provided by the external legal counsel working on the investigation.

The city will fund the inquiry through city staff vacancies, said SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

Bree Denning appointed to city’s homelessness advisory board

The city appointed Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, to serve on the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness for two years, starting July 24.

Denning has been executive director of the women’s society for more than two years.

She works with Yellowknife’s most vulnerable and runs the Housing First initiative, which supports moving chronically homeless clients into market rental units.

The decision to appoint Denning passed unanimously.