Howard May – Cochrane Eagle – May 19, 2022, 1:00 PM
The Cochrane Tourism Association (CTA) appeared before Cochrane Town council last week to bring them up to date on where things stand in terms of local tourism initiatives and prospective funding options.
The Cochrane Tourism Association (CTA) appeared before Cochrane Town Council last week to bring them up to date on where things stand in terms of local tourism initiatives and prospective funding options.
Executive Director of the CTA Jo-Anne Oucharek highlighted the importance of growing the tourism industry in Cochrane, which she referred to as “the visitor economy.”
If Cochrane is to become a popular tourist destination, she said the road ahead has to be navigated with care.
“Like the roads in Cochrane at the moment, tourism has some challenges,” she said, adding that if not well planned, tourism development can overwhelm infrastructure, increase traffic congestion, create social stress and/or interrupt normal resident activity.
The priorities for 2022 will be the Ambassador Program, the Tourism Mentorship Program, web and app development, development of a River Strategy, and the Explore Cochrane platform.
The River Strategy’s goal is to identify river enhancement opportunities to improve access and lands adjacent to rivers and streams.
A survey done by the CTA in 2018 asked the community about their wish list. Ninety-two per cent of respondents said improved river access was a priority.
Oucharek reiterated the importance of the river access issue, adding that getting in at Riverfront Park is one thing – it’s getting back out again that may be an issue for some.
“The silent majority is asking for access to the river. If you’re a kayaker, you can’t get back up the river, I don’t care how good you are,” she said.
She added that current river access is not safe.
The visitor economy Oucharek alluded to, meanwhile reflects the economic benefits that accrue to towns with vibrant tourism policies.
“The visitor economy provides an alternate source of revenue and growth opportunities for business without reliance on town growth,” she said.
What’s known in economics as the multiplier effect can be dramatic.
Research from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia indicates that every $5 spent on tourism has a $50 impact on the local economy.
Oucharek cited statistics showing that a family of four doing a ‘stop and go’ visit spends $72. If they stay two hours, they spend $144, and if they stay overnight, it’s $288.
So the goal is to get people to not only come, but stay a while, Oucharek said.
“So a $5 ice cream has a $50 impact. If 10,000 families stay overnight, that’s about $3 million,” she said.
Oucharek floated the idea of a tourism development fee for council to mull over in possible future discussions.
She said the fee can take a couple of forms. It can be charged by accommodation businesses like hotels and bed and breakfasts, or it can be charged to all businesses.
Banff has a similar fee that is charged by all businesses.
A tourism development fee would be independent of the municipal government, and proceeds would go directly to develop the tourism sector in Cochrane.
The goal is sustainable funding for tourism.
Though no vote took place at the information-only session on May 16, Mayor Jeff Genung came out in favour of the idea of an independent tourism development fee, as it would free the CTA of fundraising work and allow them to concentrate fully on tourism.
“So, there’s long-term sustainable funding just like we, as a municipality, look to the province for,” Genung said. “We can plan in advance, we can put programs in long term, knowing you’re going to have a funding model out into the future.
“And, it’s not born by the taxpayer, so I see this as a win-win.”
Oucharek said in an interview that the development fee idea is just a concept to discuss at this point.
She said the association is bringing the fee idea forward to Town Council since the idea aligns with the stated goal in the Town’s Business Development Strategic Plan to make tourism a priority.
“If that’s what they want to do then this is an opportunity for us as the organization who does that to be able to build the tourism sector,” she said.
The tourism association is developing an ambassador program in partnership with the Town of Cochrane. It will be one of the new programs at The Station at Cochrane Crossing, scheduled to open this fall. Visitors talk to residents, who extol the virtues of the town. The CTA has a list of about 30 residents who will take part in this initiative.
The Explore Cochrane app features new updates to help users discover Cochrane, secret places and local top picks. It features an interactive map of Cochrane’s districts, with options for visitors to stay and play, wine and dine, and shop while they explore the community.
For more information about tourism in Cochrane or to download the app, go to cochranetourism.ca.