Chemainus Visitor Centre closed during March due to COVID-19. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Serving tourists and local business requires changes on the fly

Visitor Centre and Chamber adapt to the different environment created by COVID

Tourist towns like Chemainus are obviously adjusting on the fly during the pandemic.

There’s no playbook for how to handle these situations so it’s a learning experience for everyone.

Lori Frankson, the executive director of the Chemainus & District Chamber of Commerce, and Chemainus Visitor Centre Manager Emily Weeks have been putting their expertise to work to meet the needs of local businesses and residents and the tourists primarily from around B.C. who are still passing through.

The Visitor Centre and Chamber office both closed in late March following COVID-19 restrictions and reopened June 18 to a very different atmosphere around town than would have been typical for the time of year.

Related: Visitor numbers lower in 2019, but business still brisk

Full seven days a week operation returned for the Visitor Centre July 6. “It’s full service,” said Weeks.

The major change is no one can enter the building, but a makeshift table is set up at the doorway to handle requests.

“They tell us what they need, we grab it all for them,” explained Weeks.

The absence of the tour buses is most noticeable, but “it’s encouraging to see more and more Islanders taking the time to explore Vancouver Island and keep their money in our small communities,” she added.

Some people are taking the time to venture off the highway and into Chemainus.

“There’s been lots of positive things,” noted Weeks. “We’re working with Destination BC. They’re very concerned in making sure people are exploring safely.”

Frankson returned to her office just before Weeks and it’s been a busy time for the Chamber connecting with local businesses and “how we can support them,” she said. “Everything was changing constantly.”

Summer students Marcus Morosan and Emma Hender came into the workplace during the early stages of reopening as well.

“We were really fortunate to be granted three,” said Frankson. “We have two working right now.”

The Chamber also recently held its annual general meeting via Zoom.

A survey was conducted to find out what’s working for people and what’s not.

Overall, “we’re trying to do anything we can to support the local community, the businesses,” Frankson indicated.

“We’re also wanting to hear community feedback as well with tourism and anything we can do to help,” Weeks added.

Anxiety is running high, Frankson conceded.

“Some people are frustrated with procedures. Most here have been very good.”

The main thing, she said, is to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s words of wisdom to be respectful and kind.

“I think it’s definitely picking up from a tourist standpoint,” Frankson noted.

“A positive turn to it, a lot of businesses I’ve been speaking with there’s been a really local commitment to support local and not just Chemainus – Island-wide. You’ve got to take the positives. Obviously, there’s some haven’t fared as well.”

One initiative was undertaken July 25, called The Big Spend, as part of a nation-wide effort to help revive Canada’s economy. The buy local event encouraged community members to intentionally support their favourite local businesses.

Coming up Aug. 24-28, the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Centre in partnership with Getintheloop Cowichan Valley is hosting an economic stimulus Sidewalk Sale event. It’s also designed to drive awareness and customers to the businesses in Chemainus through a week of great sales, giveaways and family activities.

The Chamber has also been working with other organizations and resources in order to aid in the support of the business community such as the BC Chamber of Commerce, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Economic Development Cowichan and the other Chambers of Commerce in the Cowichan Valley (Cowichan Lake, Ladysmith and Duncan), as well as pulling resources from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Government of Canada Economic Response Plan, Restaurants Canada, Retail Council of Canada, BC Economic Association and WorkSafe BC.

“We have utilized all of these resources to provide the local community with business resilience resources and economic recovery resources to help navigate through these challenging times,” noted Frankson.

Also of note is the Chamber has completed its WorkSafe BC Personal Protective Equipment plan in order to keep tourists and community members safe.

CoronavirusTourism

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