“It’s like coming home.”
That’s how Nelson Visitor Centre manager Val Yowek wants tourists to feel when they walk into the newly revitalized visitor centre in Railtown’s CPR building, and she’s feeling pleased that 23,000 visitors have walked through their doors since November 2015.
“The first thing we say to our visitors is ‘welcome’ and that creates a wonderful energy. I’ve heard that British Columbians are some of the friendliest people on the planet, and that’s who we are,” Yowek told the Star.
The visitor centre saw a 43 per cent increase in tourists last year over 2015.
Yowek attributes that in part to Europeans touring through in RVs, but also B.C. natives exploring the area more thoroughly. She said she thinks a strong U.S. dollar and the uncertainty surrounding the election of President Donald Trump has kept a lot of people closer to home.
“There are a lot of B.C. people who are doing staycations and taking advantage of the beauty we have all around us.”
The 43 per cent jump is slightly complicated by the Hall St. Stores to Shore project interrupting their work in 2015, but they figure it’s mostly due to excitement around their move and people flooding in to see their new digs.
The new visitor centre also boasts a neighbouring coffeeshop, lots of public art and a pair of historic diesel locomotives that are parked out front. All of this has combined with the work being done by Dianna Ducs and Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism, Yowek said, to attract more people to Nelson.
The building is owned by the Nelson Chamber of Commerce, which runs the visitor centre along with the financial support of the City of Nelson and Destination B.C. It’s part of the business community’s larger strategy to build the tourism industry. And compared to their last five years, their numbers are the highest they’ve ever been.
According to Ducs, approximately 200,000 people visit the Kootenay region annually. Over the past five years they’ve seen tourism numbers rise 10 per cent.
“The new visitor centre has become a destination unto itself,” Ducs said.
“People come get their information on what to do and where to stay, and check out the gorgeous, renovated heritage building. It has changed the landscape for visitors, and locals.”
And the centre is excited to be a part of the Railtown revitalization project, a priority for Nelson city council, which will see their entire surrounding area including the Cottonwood Market overhauled and developed.
“People are saying this is bringing new energy to this part of town both for locals and visitors. There’s growth, there’s more activity and we’re very proud to display public art.”