One year ago Olympic anticipation was at a fever pitch and was only about to be surpassed exponentially by the games themselves.
Canada’s exceptional medal haul on the podium was, of course, fabulous and so, for the most part, was the weather.
The festive atmosphere in Greater Vancouver and Whistler was all but unprecedented and the District of Sooke had the distinction of a BC Street address for the half-month duration of the spectacle.
BC Street was a fixture in a Richmond area known as the O-Zone. Sooke maintained a display on the street showing off the district’s various attributes, including a fiberglass killer whale created by artist Johanne Audet.
About a quarter million visitors are estimated to have passed through BC Street and anecdotal records indicate Sooke was a popular stop along the way (gifts of smoked salmon were effective tools of influence.)
No one involved in the event will ever forget the Olympic experience and the jury will likely remain out on the economic fallout from the expense of being part of it.
There is no doubt about the value of the venture in the mind of Sooke’s Chief Administrative Officer Evan Parliament, who, when contacted recently for lingering impressions of the Olympic PR effort first remembered the draw prize winners.
“Immediately I think of our grand prize winner,” he said, “the couple from Richmond who won the big multi-draw where we basically spoiled the living heck out of them.”
Parliament referred to the Sooke 2010 grand prize package with a total value of over $7,000, “everything from AdrenaLine (zipline) to the Sooke Harbour House, to fishing, to Markus’… this business to that business… a whole host of prizes bundled into one package.”
The CAO recalled how the winners had invited friends from England to join them for their Sooke excursion. He said they made a return visit to thank Sooke council for the bounty.
“It’s that kind of exposure,” Parliament related, “even though it might seem small, that BC Street was all about. I think that story is just a microcosm of what we did.”
In a Jan. 27, ‘10 preview of the expedition, Mirror editor Pirjo Raits had described the newly adopted “Wild by Nature” theme of Sooke’s promotional material and the consortium of parties chipping in to make it happen.
Local sponsors had pledged about $40,000 worth of support while the Economic Development Commission ($15,000) and District of Sooke ($25,000) were also firmly committed.
Almost a year removed from the extravaganza, tangible evidence of the PR mission’s effectiveness is not so easy to come by. But Neil Flynn, speaking on behalf of the Sooke Region Tourism Association on January 7, said that’s about as much as was realistically expected.
Who comes here and why?
“It’s a really hard number to determine,” explained Flynn.
While there is a growing science devoted to it, getting to the root of tourism trends… mining for information, etc., remains in some ways a bit vague.
“It’s such a hard number to come up with. We can only really go by gut feel,” said Flynn who operates the Salty Towers B&B.
There’s one post-Olympic development Flynn’s optimistic about and there’s nothing nebulous about it. He explained,
“My last general session at Tourism Victoria… when they talk about things to do in Victoria they talk about the whole southwest coast from Sooke to Port Renfrew as something to do in Victoria. They used to ignore Sooke, now it’s something they truly brag about.”
The most reliable yardstick in assessing the health of the local tourism industry is likely to continue to be, as Flynn pointed out, vacancy rates in the accommodation sector… and the fuller the better for the local economy.
Was buying in to BC Street worth it for Sooke?
That depends on your point of view. Finding out what and who is here may not necessarily bring the visitors to the Sooke region, but it’s safe to suppose they won’t show up in significant numbers by accident.
“A quarter million people came through BC Street over 17 days last winter, and our booth was non-stop for those 17 days,” Evan Parliament concluded.
“Did Sooke go to an international event to expose itself? Absolutely! We were one of the most sought after booths. We were judged by our peers to be the best.”