A recent visitor from Manitoba gave Nelson Visitor Centre staff member Denise McInnes a painted rock.
The visitor had been collecting rocks and painting them throughout a very long trip around Canada. She told McInnes the Nelson visitor centre is the nicest one she has seen. To celebrate the centre and the 10,000th kilometre of her trip, she honoured McInnes with the rock.
“It was very sweet,” says McInnes. “I had just had a really busy day, and it made me very happy.”
That visitor, like many other Canadians, was vacationing in Canada this year because of COVID-19. The visitor centre staff has not seen the usual preponderance of European and American visitors.
Visitor numbers at the centre have been down about 15 to 20 per cent this summer over last, and the needs and attitudes of the visitors are different.
“The fact that they live in Vancouver eight hours away, and they’ve never been here before, is intriguing to me,” says McInnes. “They’ve just discovered this area. And for the most part, they love it. They just had no idea how beautiful it is here.”
“They’ve heard about Nelson and it’s been on their bucket list,” says centre manager Val Yowek. “And they’ve come because maybe they’re not going to Europe or places like that.”
Yowek and McInnes say most visitors enjoy the mix of urban offerings (mostly the arts and restaurants) and the outdoors. But some have unrealistic expectations.
For example, “Where’s the shuttle to Kokanee Glacier?”
Or they expect a paved road right to the trailhead.
“The question we ask always with people who want to go hiking is, ‘What kind of vehicle are you driving?’ Yowek says. “Safety is a primary concern for us in this job. We don’t want to send people with an RV to Kokanee Glacier. And we’d like them to keep their undercarriage.”
Many people from Alberta mistakenly think B.C.’s provincial campgrounds are closed, when it’s just reserving them in advance that is closed.
Visitors staying longer
Yowek and McInnes say this year’s visitors have tended to stay longer than the typical pre-COVID crowd. That means the centre has had to become more creative in finding things for them to do.
“If we keep the visitor in Nelson they spend more money here, it’s good for the Nelson economy,” Yowek says, “but for a wonderful experience, we send them on their way. Go up to Kaslo. Do the New Denver loop. Swim in Slocan Lake. Eat at all the different bakeries. Go see the kokanee fish. We give them day-trip options, and quite often they use Nelson as a base.”
Wondering about COVID-19
Visitors often call in advance, wondering how they will be received in Nelson during the pandemic: “Will we be welcome in Nelson with our out-of-province plates?”
Yowek and McInnes tell visitors there have been no contentious incidents like those reported in Golden or Revelstoke, in which B.C. residents called out or harassed Alberta travellers.
The centre has followed provincial health advice: during Phase 2 of the restart plan, inter-provincial travel wasn’t encouraged, but during Phase 3 they tell visitors they were welcome and to please follow safety guidelines.