REPORTING · 28th March 2010
Mark Stecklonson, Vice President of Public Affairs for BC Ferries stated, 'We want to bring people to visit the North.'
Terrace City Council met for a special Committee of the Whole meeting on Friday, March 26th on the proposed bi-weekly ferry changes. Among the honoured guests were Carol Kulesha, Mayor of the Village of Queen Charlotte, Dave McDonald, Mayor of the District of Port Edward, Jack Mussallem, Mayor of Prince Rupert, Barry Pages, Mayor of Masset / Haida Gwaii and Mark Stecklonson, Vice President of Public Affairs, BC Ferries.
Mussallem thanked everyone for coming and pointed out, the number of people present showed just how big of an issue this is. Mayor Dave Pernarowsky of Terrace introduced the meeting:
“The reason we are all together here is because of the proposed changes to BC Ferries advocating on [cutting trips] from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy and down to Tsawwassen. […] The concern that with BC Ferries is proposing is that it’s right in the height of the tourist season and it’s not a test sampling to see whether or not it would work, its 20 trips right at the biggest part of the season. The concern there for residents and hoteliers from the Queen Charlottes right all the way to the Alberta Border is that on a flow through basis, every second day, they have potential clients and customers coming off BC ferries and some of them stay in Rupert, some drive through to Terrace, some the next day will go as far as Smithers, some will go on to Prince George and everyone is used to the existing schedule and there is some concerns about changing it.”
He expressed another concern in the Sacred Circle, the economy has not been at its best and there are people who live across the North who work with BC Ferries and by moving to Tsawwassen may change the perspective of living in the North.
BC Ferries had prepared a slideshow about this. Representatives explained they had seen a drop in traffic, particularly after the sinking of the Queen of the North and they want to see their replacement boat fully utilized. They argued they have heard good feedback from Port Hardy but concern from Prince Rupert. Mussallem would later comment he had spoken to the head of the Vancouver Tourism Association and they were a long way from supporting this product.
The changes were explained. Then, BC Ferries representatives started speaking to the “product” they were offering and how they were going about marketing it. They also showed consumer research where they polled 589 metro Vancouver Adults over the web. 73% were interested in taking a trip to Vancouver or Port Hardy, 59% were willing to take a vehicle and 43% would be interested in returning by train although they decided this was not viable.
Mussallem also later suggested BC Ferries consider a circular route around the province in conjunction with Via Rail whom he is aware they have not consulted as both the Train and the Ferry meet in Rupert.
On the next slide, 71% said they would stay overnight and explore the area around the destination, 48% wished to explore the North or Vancouver Island and 40% would take the ferry to the Queen Charlottes.
Stecklonson commented when he presents on this topic in the lower mainland, people say they want to visit Prince Rupert and the Queen Charlottes, a majority of them do not wish to take a vehicle and they see this as a good promotion and cannot understand why Prince Rupert is opposed to this. He said they want to bring people to visit the Sacred Circle.
Attempting to make sense of the statistics, along with the statements, presented some conflicting information. A majority of passengers want to explore the north while they suggest reduced sailings. Stecklonson stated a majority do not want to take a vehicle, yet a slide showed 59% were willing to take a vehicle.
The general feedback was the Mayors did not want to lose what they already had because it would take time to figure out if the service will work or not and during this time the hospitality industry would suffer for it. It was suggested they do this while the economy is growing, not while in a state of decline.
The Mayors questioned the research and stated they were uncertain if there were enough cabins onboard the ferries to support passengers to the North. One commented they were not hearing the answers. It was also pointed out the trip would not be economical. On the topic on the staterooms, BC Ferries stated there were hotels along the route for people who do not have staterooms on the ferries. The Mayors countered: now they have 55 room hotels pulling up to their communities.
The conversation bounced back and forth around the room on the topics above. One thing BC Ferries Representatives did say was they are interested in selling packages to people who wish to visit the Sacred Circle as a tourist destination. Stecklonson commented: “You’ve got some very unique products up here you don’t advertise.”
The Mayors joked about being among the unique products. However, they walked away with the message: BC Ferries is willing to listen.