New ways to promote tourism explored

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

High Prairie’s Visitor Information Centre is closing and will not re-open, at least in the High Prairie Museum building.

Town council almost decided at its Sept. 10 meeting to abolish the centre, which provided up-to-date information to tourists, but will instead explore new ways to offer a VIC and promote the community.

The decision was reached after council heard the High Prairie Museum, which houses the VIC, did not want it any more. The value of the centre was also questioned and whether it was fulfilling its purpose.

Councillor Judy Stenhouse moved to dissolve the VIC.

“Numbers are down,” she said after reading a report.

Councillor Brian Gilroy agreed, adding he would like to set the money aside for council to come up with a better marketing plan.

Council pays half of the $30,000 operations of the VCI each year, or about $15,000, shared equally with Big Lakes County.

A report penned by county municipal intern Brett Hawken, suggested in one option that all money be forwarded to the county in its effort to promote the region on its website.

Councillor Donna Deynaka, who chairs the museum board, explained the reasons the museum wanted out.

“There are a lot of issues with the handling of the VIC,” she said, citing lack of space and the fact they cannot use casino funds to operate the VIC. Museum staff are also tied up with VIC duties and cannot run summer programs.

“Basically, the museum doesn’t want it any more,” said Deynaka.

She also disputed claims that online promotions are working effectively.

“It doesn’t work. People like getting the paper, the maps …

“I don’t know what the solution is,” she added. “After this year, [the museum] doesn’t want anything to do with the VIC.”

Councillor Arlen Quartly was more abrupt.

“Do we need a VIC?” he asked.

Deynaka replied part of the problem may be the current VIC has information on everything and everywhere in the province.

“It doesn’t focus on the area,” she said.

“Are we less of a community if we don’t have a VIC?” asked Quartly.

Deynaka replied there still has to be a venue for tourists to pick up information.

Panasiuk did not agree with giving the town’s money to the county to operate the website.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, adding it was important to “give out information.”

Councillor Michael Long agreed the website was not the best way to go.

“I don’t see it working for Big Lakes, especially,” he said. “I defy anyone to find Big Lakes County on a map.”

“To me, it’s time to look at options,” said Panasiuk.

“We have to promote ourselves but how?” asked Quartly. “We still have to have something.”

Long added council just completed a rebranding process and is not promoting its new image.

Hawken’s recommendation

  • Move everything online and move the one physical VIC location into little hubs in the town of High Prairie and hamlets:
    • This option can provide every service the VIC currently does, but instead of having one big location, we have five in each hamlet and one in the town. It would be easy to equip these locations with wifi if locations were located in county buildings to tackle the dead service issue. And if the town hub is at the campground, service is available there. Extra money will go towards having online downloading options of information/brochures to be a very reasonable alternative to paper copies.
  • Keeping a partnership with the Town of High Prairie, we can still contribute $30,000 towards improving online interface. This will go towards creating direct links that take you to a page just about individual places [example Shaw’s Point] that include all the amenities, food, camping, boating situations etc., that Shaw’s Point has. As well a link to Google maps on how to get to Shaw’s Point to help wayfinding problem. [Downloading maps can be available as well]
  • Also, after chatting with Lisa, there is a content Development Travel Alberta grant that will give us more funding to enhancing our entire online platform. We must provide 25 per cent of the money and Travel Alberta will fund the other 75 per cent. Therefore, making the $30,000 available provided by us and the Town of High Prairie, we can apply for this grant. Lisa has the ball rolling with Chris [from Travel Alberta] and he is on our side of getting this grant in place. [Currently, there is a budget freeze, so we will have to wait if these are still available one the new government finalizes the budget]
  • Finally, move everything online and properly allocating money to enhance the website will help tackle a bunch of issues outlined in the VFA as I have described above.

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