There’s no doubt a new visitor centre for the Saanich Peninsula is in order. The current Sidney Visitor Centre has deteriorated to the point where it is not a suitable facility for welcoming travellers to one of the most beautiful regions in the world.
The Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce has submitted a proposal to the provincial government to replace the existing facility with a $3-million interpretive centre with the aim of capturing more of the region’s visitors after they disembark from the ferry.
So why not build it at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal?
The visitor centre is a two-minute drive from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. People will have already been sitting on the ferry for more than an hour and a half. With places to go, people to see, many travellers will balk at yet another interruption of the journey. Caught in the stream of vehicles that churns off the ferry, they will be reluctant to immediately break out of the traffic flow to stop at a visitor centre.
It would be even harder for a centre on the Island side to rope in tour buses that have schedules to follow.
Putting the centre on the Tsawwassen side would take advantage of a captive audience as people wait to board the ferry. The Tsawwassen Quay Market went a long way to relieving the blacktop bleakness of the terminal; a Saanich Peninsula visitor centre could complement that. Those caught in a two-sailing wait would not only be willing to avail themselves of the centre, they would be eager for something else to help pass the time.
Catching the people on the mainland side when they have the time and inclination to absorb the information seems to be a better proposition than the inconvenience of stopping on the Island side just after they have started. It’s a huge untapped audience — the current centre attracted about 18,000 visitors in 2011, a mere fraction of the people who rode in the nearly two million vehicles that used the ferries.
The Saanich Peninsula is rich with attractions and amenities. In addition to the Butchart Gardens, which need little explaining, worthwhile sites include the Sidney waterfront, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, regional and provincial parks, farmers’ markets, wineries and bistros.
There’s more than tourism involved.
“The manufacturing sector has a global audience,” says Chris Fudge, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, mentioning Viking Air as an example. “That’s where you really start to open some doors.”
It’s a project worth widespread support. As Fudge points out, the centre can be a gateway to the rest of the region. One of the problems on the south Island is the fragmentation of tourism-promotion efforts.
Municipal boundaries are invisible to tourists. The more the different communities can work together, the better. Efforts can be complementary, rather than competitive, more than the sum of the disparate parts.
Regardless of where the centre goes, it should be easily accessible and highly visible. Inconvenient access is poison to anything that depends on a flow of traffic.
And it should be a facility that reflects a world-class destination. You don’t want to put a cheap screen door on an elegant mansion.
© Copyright 2013