“Being a tight-knit, small community […] Not only are these people stakeholders and colleagues, but they’re friends. In a small community like this, [businesses closing] really hits home.”
– Blain Sepos, Executive Director at Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association
Amid all the turmoil destination marketers have been through, Destination Think is always looking for the bright lights. They are the tourism leaders and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) working in many ways, seen and unseen, toward the long-term best interests of their community. We can all learn a lot from their actions.
On that note, we spoke with Blain Sepos, Executive Director at Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association (PBQ Tourism), who brings a spirit of generosity to his stakeholder relationships. Here is how the DMO helped make local tourism businesses more resilient, leading to a successful season during a time of crisis.
From talking to Blain, and the stories that follow, it’s clearly been a busy couple of years.
Located in Western Canada, on central Vancouver Island, Parksville Qualicum Beach is known as a relaxing beach destination. Travellers of all ages come here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, reconnect to nature, and discover the small-town charm of PQB’s communities.
At least, that’s what usually happens. But as the pandemic began, PQB Tourism staff suddenly found themselves providing emotional and tactical support to worried stakeholders fearing closures and bankruptcy. It was an enormous shift from business as usual. But all this hard work and stakeholder support has paid off. The heroic efforts shared below resulted in a record-breaking summer for Parksville Qualicum Beach, which kept local tourism businesses thriving.
Speaking of businesses, let’s dive into some examples of good stakeholder relationships.
PQB Tourism and the owners of Mount Arrowsmith Brewery (MAB) have had close ties for years. In fact, they are PQB’s landlords. Back in 2017, the location of the PQB Tourism office was in a building that housed Parksville’s first and only craft brewery, MAB. Mount Arrowsmith Brewery launched with great success and has been a massive hit in the community ever since.
Blain shares that “later that year, I met the MAB team at the BC Beer Awards where they won Brewery of the Year in their first year of operation. That evening, I jokingly mentioned that I guess that means they’ll be looking to expand. The following week the owners approached me about expanding into our space even though we still had over a year left in our lease.”
Despite the stress and effort of moving offices, everyone at the PQB Tourism team happily agreed to move spaces to support the brewery’s extension. “We ended up having to move twice to accommodate the expansion. [But] Mount Arrowsmith Brewery owners took very good care of us throughout the process.” Two moves in a year is taxing, but “I think anyone would do the same in our situation,” says Blain.
Unfortunately, a year after the moves, COVID-19 hit, and tourism changed forever.
Blain explains that “when the pandemic first happened, we all were scrambling to understand how we can best support our local stakeholders. We knew there was an immediate need to be able to communicate, mostly to locals, [which businesses were] open. So we shifted most of our marketing efforts […]. We worked closely with our two Chambers of Commerce to amplify this information to locals.”
As a result of this effort and how many businesses needed support, Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism and Tourism Vancouver Island came alongside other tourism partners to create the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program (VICTRP). Blain explains that the idea behind the program was to connect businesses with advisors who could point them to support services, help them implement safety protocols in their businesses and provide one-on-one free consultation services. When this program got off the ground, stakeholder relationship manager Karyn Doerksen was reassigned from PQB Tourism to support the Resiliency Program. Karyn’s role over the pandemic was to keep in touch with stakeholders and connect them with programs, business advisors, and other resources. Blain says, “I’m really proud of being able to dedicate a team member to VICTRP and [of] supporting businesses in that way.”
From Parksville Qualicum Beach, 22 stakeholders signed up for the VICTRP program last year, and to this day, all those local businesses are still in operation. Blain says, “we can’t say this is all attributed to the program, but if VICTRP weren’t there, they would’ve had a harder time.”
PQB Tourism is also supporting the community through an affordable housing support program to be piloted in 2022. The program will use tax revenue from Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms to support affordable staff housing, a rising concern since the pandemic. This program is part of a province-wide initiative where DMOs can divert some of their destination’s accommodation tax (Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT)) toward housing support.
Overall, Parksville Qualicum Beach destination marketing work affects more than getting heads in beds through promotion; it’s helping Vancouver Island businesses recover from COVID-19 and find creative ways to help with staff housing. It also shows a solid commitment to serving stakeholders through one of the most trying times in modern tourism history.
Destination Think has worked with PQB Tourism for several years across social media management, Tourism Sentiment Index research, and campaigns. Blain says recent brand audit and tourism sentiment reports are helping the destination shape its strategies for supporting local stakeholders.
This fall Destination Think is running a campaign with PQB Tourism called Make-up Time, which encourages travellers to make up for this year’s travel mishaps in the beautiful, relaxing, and tight-knit destination of Parksville Qualicum Beach.
Do you have a good news story like this one? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
Feature image credit: Tourism Vancouver Island/Jordan Dyck/Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company