The best way to promote Chilliwack’s ample tourism opportunities – and to report on them, it seems – is to experience them first hand.
That’s the idea behind Tourism Chilliwack’s Familiarization Tour, which took place this week. Hotel and visitor centre staff from Chilliwack and surrounding communities were invited to take part in some of Chilliwack’s most impressive and popular tourist destinations to allow them to share genuine, experiential knowledge with out-of-towners.
On Tuesday, ‘fam tour’ attendees, including a reporter from The Progress, had the opportunity to hit the rapids with Chilliwack River Rafting in the morning, and take a Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors guided hike to Lindeman Lake in the afternoon.
“The goal is to give [front-line staff] an experience, and to show them what Chilliwack has to offer. When they have that hands-on experience, they can share that with visitors,” said Allison Colthorp, executive director of Tourism Chilliwack.
This is the first time Tourism Chilliwack has hosted a fam tour to this magnitude. They split the cost of the tour with Destination B.C., allowing the activities to be complimentary for attendees.
Front-line workers have the ability to influence a visitor’s decision to increase their tourism expenditures and length of stay in the region.
“We all work as a team in the Fraser Valley. Every [neighbouring] visitor centre will get questions about Chilliwack,” Colthorp explained.
When it came to choosing activities for the fam tour, Tourism Chilliwack looked at which destinations create the majority of overnight stays for leisure travel.
“Fishing is our number one economic driver for tourism, hands down,” Colthorp said. And the mountain ranges in Chilliwack are highly luring to outdoor enthusiasts from Chilliwack’s two primary tourism markets, the Vancouver area and Washington state.
Cultus Lake Waterpark was the one man-made attraction that made the list. “It has a big draw on its own,” Colthorp said of the destination that draws over 150,000 visitors in a summer. “It’s our little Disneyland in the Fraser Valley.”
Tourists make the trek to Cultus Lake to enjoy the well-rounded overnight experience that it provides. Locals are encouraged to relive the joy they had as kids at the Waterpark and to try out the new rides and attractions.
Nearly 30 people took part in the tour this week. Through word of mouth, however, their experiences of Chilliwack’s remarkable tourism destinations could reach any number of people.
Many visitors come to Chilliwack for corporate events, sports, or weddings. Hotel and visitor centre staff have the ability to encourage guests to stay that extra night in order to try their hand at river rafting, paragliding, or any activity that peaks their interest.
“We want them to be able to speak passionately about our community, and to be able to say they’ve had a real life experience,” Colthorp stressed. Providing that ‘Trip advisor’ detail of what to expect is far more effective than, ‘Here’s a brochure, here’s the price.’
Most of the participants at Chilliwack River Rafting (CRR), including myself, had never tried rafting before. It’s slightly intimidating to think about hitting the rapids of the Chilliwack River as a beginner, as it likely would be for a majority of tourists to the area.
But the staff and tour organizers ensured that it was safe, incredibly fun and memorable.
CRR’s Russ Brown kept the whole group laughing as we suited up in wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets, and he drove us 14 km up-river to the starting point. Excitement and nerves grew as we crossed the bridge over the boisterous Tamihi rapids, which we’d soon be paddling our way through.
River guides Jo, Patrick and Colby prepared the group with a variety of safety procedures and paddling maneuvers before casting off from Slesse Creek.
The ‘Classic’ rafting trip that we took started gently, allowing time for newbies to find the essential synchronization in paddle strokes, and to realize that the early small rapids won’t send you swimming.
As we wander energetically through the idyllic scenery, the guide hollers out calls to navigate between rocks and around fallen trees, and directly into the rapids that make it exciting.
‘Forward hard. Right back. Stop. Forward. Together now. Come on guys! All right, hold on!’
The rapids, which increased in intensity as we made our way down river, transformed from threatening to exhilarating with every crash and splash. A few people fell in after a steep drop, but their fellow paddlers pulled them back onto the boat in no time.
The hours fly by. The boat floats back to the ranch and there’s time for one more quick run through Tamihi.
“Are you in?”
It’s one of those experiences I’ll never forget, partly because it was such a good time, and partly because I’ll tell the story again and again.
To determine its success, Tourism Chilliwack will be surveying the tour attendees and tracking the results of the initiative on a long-term basis. They plan to host fam tours annually, bringing new activities into the mix each time, and are thinking about organizing niche-market tours to target specific groups of attendees or certain tourism sub-industries like agriculture or extreme sports.