The District of Sechelt has announced the Sechelt Visitor Information Centre (VIC), located at the Seaside Centre downtown, will close at the end of the month.
The release announcing the closure said the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society, which has run the centre under contract since 2004, has decided to end the contract on Dec. 31, 2018 – two years early.
According to the district, the VIC will be closed as of the 31st, “to provide council the opportunity to review the options for providing services to visitors as part of the 2019 budget deliberations.”
Mayor Darnelda Siegers said, “We have been very happy with the high level of service Sunshine Coast Community Services Society has provided our visitors and residents over the years at our Visitor Centre. We are sad to see them go but council looks forward to the opportunity to fully review this service to determine our next steps.”
Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach told Coast Reporter that after a strategic plan review in 2017 the organization has been trying to become “efficient, effective and focused” on addressing the increased need for services, especially for vulnerable people on the Coast.
Leach said part of putting the strategic plan into action has included discussions with the district about ending the contract, which started in August.
“We’ve done great work there – it’s an incredible benefit to the community – but we think there are other organizations on the Coast that are better positioned to provide that service,” Leach said.
“The staff who have worked in that visitor centre for the past number of years really see it as a value to the community. It was not just about visitor information – often local people would come in to ask for information or buy [event] tickets or get bus tickets,” Leach said. “It was a nice little hub for the community and I think they’re hopeful that it will continue.”
According to a report presented to Sechelt council last month, as of Oct. 31 the VIC had seen about 11,300 visits in 2018 and handled 13,500 requests for information, mostly from locals or people visiting from elsewhere in B.C.
Leach said the VIC is run mainly by volunteers under the direction of two staff people, one of whom has retired, while the other will be taking on a different job with Community Services, so there will be no net job loss as a result of the closure.
Sechelt hasn’t said yet how it will handle the search for a new VIC operator. The district faced criticism in 2016, when the contract was last up for renewal. The Sechelt Chamber of Commerce complained because the contract was not put out to tender.
The contract was worth about $56,000 per year, and documents presented to council by Community Services indicated the total cost of running the VIC, including staff wages, was closer to $90,000 per year. The rest of the budget came through grants from Destination BC and the federal government’s summer student program, visitor centre memberships, ticket commissions, sales and donations.
Earlier this year, Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT) took over the $45,000 visitor services contract in the Town of Gibsons from the local Chamber of Commerce, and at the time SCT executive director Paul Kamon also told Gibsons council that the tourism organization would be interested in the Sechelt Visitor Information Centre contract.