The streets of Ladysmith seemed busier than ever this summer. The Ladysmith Visitors Centre agrees. We have had a major increase in tourism. For the summer months of June, July and August, they reported over 4300 visitors coming into their office. They don’t have a way to tell exactly how many visitors we had, as not everyone goes to the Visitor Centre and it is not open 24/7, but I would suggest that it is well over three times that number. In addition, the Ladysmith Maritime Community Marina had a record breaking 2200 plus “boat nights,” with more “boating rendezvous” being booked for this year and next year. Likewise the Ladysmith Marina (formally known as Ivy Green Marina) welcomed hundreds of additional boats visiting the area, including those that stayed at the Seattle Yacht Club’s outport on Dunsmuir Island and would come over to shop.
Regardless, of the actual numbers, the benefit of tourism on the town’s economy is substantial. By just looking at marine tourism alone, each boat night here in Ladysmith generates between $150 and $250 a night, so the estimated 2500 plus of boat nights would put into the town up to $625,000 (based on the $250/night). These are dollars that are spread throughout many of our local business. When I questioned local businesses about this increase in tourism, I found that almost everyone of our downtown shops was positively affected to some degree or another. Some, like the First Avenue Bakery and the Fox and Hounds, who have developed a reputation for great food and good service, have become star attractions. Many boaters expressed their appreciation of the 49th Parallel Grocery for generously driving them back to the marina after shopping there.
I, like other members of the Ladysmith Maritime Society, acted as dock hosts. One of our functions is to welcome the boaters to our community and help them by answering any questions they have about the town and what services the community offers. During this past summer, almost to a person, these visiting boaters had nothing but praise for the marina and the town. Many said that they considered the LMS marina as one of the best, if not the best marina on the island. When questioned further as to what made their visit here special, they replied that it was the friendliness of the volunteers on the docks and the townspeople. For many, Ladysmith is now a must-stop on their boating schedule. In fact, many told me that this was their third, fourth or even fifth visit here. With such positive word of mouth, the reputation of the marina and the town is spreading throughout the boating community in the Pacific Northwest. This can only lead to more boating tourism, which will positively affect the economy of our local business. This economic benefit is not only from the boating community, however, but is also from land-based travellers. Tourism brings money into our community, shared by not just restaurants, grocery stores, and liquor stores, but also bookstores, dress shops, drug stores, pet supply shops and even the local tack shop.
The seeds for successful tourism have been sown, and we are now seeing a bloom, but we have to take care of and cultivate it. We should determine how we can make visitors to our community have a better experience. How can we better tap into this economic driver? The Town contributes money into promoting Cowichan Tourism, because we are part of the CVRD, but is Cowichan tourism the best vehicle to promote what we have here in Ladysmith? I don’t think so. Yes, we have an obligation to contribute some money and effort to promote the Cowichan Valley. But can we get a better bang for our buck by re-establishing the Ladysmith Tourism Advisory Committee that we once had? A committee that can promote what is special and unique about our community.
When you look at what we have to offer through a tourist’s eyes, you can see our community in a different way. We offer so many things, such as our history through the Ladysmith Museum and the Heritage Culture Centre, the downtown architecture, hiking trails, wildlife, kayaking, and especially our special community events, such as Ladysmith Days, the LMS Festivals, Arts on the Avenue, Brits on the Beach, Show and Shine, art shows at the Ladysmith Art Gallery, and, especially, the Festival of Lights. Let’s support our local business by promoting what is special about Ladysmith, so that we can share the pride that we have of our community and what it has to offer everyone, tourists and locals alike. That’s as I see it.