Since Sunfest’s inaugural weekend in the Cowichan Lake district, anecdotal evidence has been used to sing the festival’s praises and to decry its impacts on the town. Members of both camps, and those who fall somewhere in the middle, will likely be interested in a new report on the event that has just been released by the Island Costal Economic Trust.
Prepared for the Town of Lake Cowichan “and Community Stakeholders” by economic development intern Bridget Horel, the report is based on a questionnaire and conversations with stakeholders such as Lake Cowichan First Nation, event vendors, local businesses, volunteers, LEAD group members, chamber of commerce staff and town representatives.
Over two days, 71 festival participants were surveyed — 48 at the festival site and 23 off-site in Lake Cowichan. Survey questions asked about accommodations, off-site events, whether respondents were planning to go into town and where they were going for information about the area.
Most respondents had a group size of less than five people, and 90 per cent of people surveyed were from Vancouver Island (44 per cent from Victoria, 21 per cent from the Cowichan Valley and 16 per cent from Nanaimo/Parksville).
When asked to rank the importance of off-site events and activities, the majority (28 per cent) said they were not important.
Twenty-three per cent gave a neutral response. Fourteen per cent said off-site events and activities were very important to them.
Those surveyed at Laketown Ranch were asked if they planned on attending any events in Lake Cowichan over the weekend. Almost half (40 per cent) of those on-site participants said they were not aware of events downtown and a third said they did not plan on attending any events there.
The report states that for those festival-goers surveyed away from Laketown Ranch, “the two primary motives for travelling into town were participating in lake and riverside recreational activities (55 per cent) and accessing food (restaurants and groceries) and other supplies (41 per cent).” Tubing and swimming were common recreational activities respondents were involved in.
Questions on the survey about what local amenities and services might have enhanced participants’ experiences revealed a desire for services related to food/restaurants, water activities, shuttles and signage. Horel’s report also notes that some of the people surveyed said they would like to have more information available about public access to the lake and river, and public beach locations.
Perceptions of Lake Cowichan proved highly positive, with 75 per cent of respondents describing it as “very good.” All respondents said they would come back to visit Lake Cowichan.
In addition to the questionnaire results, Horel’s report includes a series of recommendations.
One idea is the town consider developing a Lake Cowichan Community App that would provide visitors with “mobile friendly content” about local restaurants, businesses, activities and landmarks.
Another recommendation: secure sponsorship or funds for the shuttle service so it can be offered to festival participants for free or by donation.
Horel’s report was discussed at the town’s Sept. 13 economic and sustainable development committee meeting.
“I think she’s done a terrific job here and I think this will be a very useful tool for us going forward, not just with Sunfest but other festivals and activities in our community. I think there’s a lot we can take out of this. I think it’s important,” said mayor Ross Forrest.
Councillor Tim McGonigle echoed these sentiments.
“My only concern is some of the percentages may be a little bit skewed with the small sample group,” McGonigle said.
Island Coastal Economic Trust was created by the B.C. government in 2006 to “support economic development initiative on central and northern Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.”