OUTLOOK: Capitalizing on Chilliwack’s beauty

There’s no question about it, Chilliwack is a hotspot for regional tourism.

Brian Coombes is the former executive director with Tourism Chilliwack. He now heads the Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation.

Brian Coombes is the former executive director with Tourism Chilliwack. He now heads the Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation.

There’s no question about it, Chilliwack is a hotspot for regional tourism.

Despite the global economic downturn of 2008, the great recession didn’t have as big of an effect locally as one may think.

“The impact was less (here in Chilliwack) than in many tourism destinations, like larger ones such as Whistler, Vancouver and Victoria. They are dependent on international, and we are dependant on regional tourism,” says Brian Coombes, president of Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, and former executive director of Tourism Chilliwack.

In fact, Chilliwack may have the best of many worlds.

With the high price of gas, many people who in the past would travel to the Interior for a summer vacation, are now only going as far as Chilliwack.

Being a little more than an hour’s drive from Vancouver, Chilliwack is an ideal spot for people to come for a day trip, whether it’s to swim in our lakes, fish in our rivers, hike our mountains, or play in our parks.

“You’re just far enough away from Vancouver that you feel like your on a vacation,” says Coombes.

With venues such as Chilliwack Heritage Park and Prospera Centre, there are also visitors who come here for weekend-long events such as trade shows and expos, sports tournaments, music festivals, and horse shows, to name a few.

These multi-day visitors are spending money here — staying in local accommodations, dining in our restaurants, and shopping downtown.

Two years ago, Tourism Chilliwack took on the management agreement to operate Heritage Park (previously, the Chilliwack Arts Council operated the facility).

When Tourism Chilliwack took over, they started from scratch in marketing the facility to attract new events as to bring as many different walks of life as possible to Chilliwack — from dog lovers to horse riders, metal-detecting enthusiasts to roller derby players.

The money from these events that is generated beyond operational goes into a building reserve fund, which is earmarked for improving the building itself by adding features such as more washrooms and more entrance points.

“We look at what the facility is lacking and how we can improve it to be more multipurpose,” says Coombes.

Cultus Lake is also a hugely popular destination point.

“We are very fortunate to be a neighbour of Cultus Lake,” he adds. Tourism Chilliwack has a cooperative marketing program with the Cultus Lake Park Board and the businesses located there. They’re “connecting the two communities together.”

“In Chilliwack there is no one single area that is the tourism and visitor area. Tourism is touching all parts of our community, from Bridal Falls to Cultus Lake to Yarrow,” says Coombes.

But it’s not just the vacationers and weekend visitors who are impacting Chilliwack’s economy. It’s people and students who are living, studying and training at developments such as Canada Education Park which houses the Pacific Region Training Centre, Canada Border Services Agency’s training facility, UFV’s new campus, plus its brand-new Agriculture Centre of Excellence building.

Those people are now living, working and spending money here in Chilliwack.

“Chilliwack is very fortunate to have a very diverse economy, and within that diversity, tourism is a very strong component,” says Coombes. “Tourism is an industry that employs a lot of people in Chilliwack.”

Although the regional tourism is doing well in Chilliwack, European business has definitely suffered over the years. Back in the 1990s Chilliwack was a summer destination place for international visitors from May to September, but that has since changed because of the currency exchange.

Regardless of the decline in international tourism, Chilliwack is growing.

Last summer, The Progress reported that Chilliwack’s population had ballooned to more than 90,000.

And since the year 2000, buildings such as the Landing Leisure Centre, Hampton Inn, Heritage Park and Prospera Centre have popped up, all while other facilities like Townsend Park, Exhibition Stadium, Coast Chilliwack Hotel and Twin Rinks have undergone major facelifts.

“There’s lots of room for growth and as you have growth you create demand that can spur investment,” says Coombes.

One thing is for sure, Chilliwack is definitely a city on the grow.