It is an excellent idea to plan now to take advantage of the huge Sunfest country music extravaganza with its tens of thousands of visitors when it moves to the community.
The proposal seems likely to come to pass, possibly as soon as for the summer of 2016. It’s moving into the final phases of rezoning approval at the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
It seems to have a lot of general support in the Cowichan Lake area, with some notable exceptions.
There is no doubt that there is a big economic opportunity here for the communities around the lake that have struggled in recent years as mills have closed, leading to subsequent closures of other community businesses and schools in the area, as the number of industrial salaries being spent in the community dwindled.
Tens of thousands of people coming to town will mean foot traffic for food establishments and shops in numbers not normally seen even during the generally busier summer tourist season.
The hope is that at least a portion of these visitors will want to come back to the lake area, too, at another time, to perhaps take advantage of the hiking, camping and lakeshore, thereby spinning one weekend windfall into a longer term economic development opportunity.
But we have reservations about the idea of seeing tourism as a long-term economic saviour for the Cowichan Lake area. Chemainus developed deliberately to feed the tourist trade and is now struggling, with empty storefronts marring the main downtown streets. Tourism can be a fickle business, particularly if it is not developed organically, with an eye to what can keep the community going during the shoulder and low seasons of the year.
Equally problematic is the idea that tourist businesses should bank on hiring baby boomers who are bored and don’t care about making enough money to live on. This is not a long-term sustainable strategy. Nor will it help to encourage new people to move into the lake’s communities. And in 10 years or so your workforce is gone.
Tourism can certainly be a substantial part of the Lake’s future, and proper planning to encourage that is great. But putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea.