The entire Town of Port McNeill was secret shopped last week and the results of that assessment were made available to the public during a community meeting held last Friday (March 13) at the Gate House theatre.
The town, with financial support from the Island Coastal Economic Trust and a number of local businesses, were, with the organizational help of David Mitchell, able to hire the firm of Roger Brooks International – a recognized and experienced leader in the field of destination development – to conduct an assessment of Port McNeill’s readiness and ability to take advantage of the growth opportunities for tourism as well as those created as a result of tourism.
Pointing to the significant role tourism plays in our overall economy, presenter Roger Brooks confirmed that, “tourism is now the front door to our non-tourism economic development.”
He went on to explain how for the first time in our modern history, quality of life is ranked top amongst today’s workers and those workers go to where they want to live and employers who need their talent must follow them. As a result, people who appreciate and enjoy the lifestyle of Port McNeill and the North Island are more apt to return as residents, bringing their jobs with them.
It is, according to Brooks, a complete reversal of life as once experienced by Boomers. “Shift happens,” he explained and suggested those communities who understand change has happened and can provide that unique and appealing quality of life, will be the ones that thrive in the years ahead.
While his report focussed on tourism and our readiness to leverage the opportunities this industry can provide to Port McNeill, he was also quick to remind the audience that local planning should be based on, “Community first, tourism second,” noting: “After all, if you don’t hang out in your own downtown, neither will visitors.”
There was a self-assessment practicality or logic behind Mr. Brooks’ approach as he asked everyone to consider the questions: “Is this a place where I’d want to visit? Is this a place where I want to live, raise a family, work, invest, start a business or retire?” And, “How do we stack up against everyone else on Vancouver Island?”
To begin answering those questions and over the course of several days and in all kinds of weather, his team set out to experience Port McNeill and the North Island in ways a tourist making their first visit might see us. The town was photographed from top to bottom. They talked with staff at hotels, local merchants, service providers, took the ferry to Alert Bay and Sointula, drove up to Port Hardy, and like all tourists, asked hundreds of questions about the area.
Following that work, a summation of their experiences was provided to the public in an hour and a half presentation at the Gate House.
Editor’s Note – Part two of Bill McQuarrie’s story – where he will detail the key results of that presentation – will be featured in next week’s paper.