As one of this region’s most cherished attractions, Barkerville Historic Town & Park draws a large influx of seasonal tourists every year.
However, the wildfires that raged through the British Columbia Interior last summer were an unprecedented event that caused significant province-wide loss, and took a major toll on Barkerville’s summer revenue.
Ed Coleman, Barkerville’s chief executive officer, says the overall loss was roughly $750,000 – around a 40 per cent decrease from 2016.
Coleman notes this is a combination of expected revenue, gross revenue lost and the cancellation of projects, which would have generated more revenue had they gone forward.
The success of Barkerville depends heavily on an influx of national visitors – Europe and Asia specifically.
Coleman notes the drop that was really evident was a loss of approximately 50 per cent of Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island traffic.
“That was a significant [hit]. When they come up here, they’re staying for multiple days.”
Coming with the Vancouver crowd was the scheduled ATV BC conference, where they planned to put in a new off-road vehicle trail that would link Barkerville to Wells. Losing this event meant a $50,000 loss for Barkerville.
A loss of employment wasn’t an issue for the staff, despite the low attendance, Coleman says.
However, businesses within Barkerville were affected and had to adapt to the drop-in patrons by cutting back the number of employees per shift, which compensated the loss in sales over the season.
Community Futures Wildfire Ambassadors are working with business merchants by providing them programs that will assist them recover the losses of last summer.
Coleman says he is confident the losses will be easily circumvented with the effort and winter projects and activities currently in place.
Wildfire relief funds through the province has also been a massive help, and has given Coleman says a major head start in already recovering half the losses of last season.
“We’re just at the very beginning of diversifying our winter activities.
“Last year, we started that process by putting in the tube-run, so this is our first full year of having a winter activity season.”
The tube-run has been a huge success this winter. Families have shown a lot of support with steady attendance every Saturday and Sunday, as well as statutory holidays or Pro-D days.
Thursdays and Fridays are also open to special bookings for groups such as school field trips.
There have also been upgrades to the campground with more power and cabins, and the cottages are also nearly complete. The plan is to have them open to the public as rentals at the beginning of February.
A record-breaking attendance for the Victorian Christmas was also a big boost for Barkerville, welcoming 1,600 guests over the weekend of Dec. 9-11.
Coleman says he is proud of these restoration efforts and he’s certain Barkerville will be one of many communities affected by the wildfires to get back on their feet.
“There are thousands of people affected by the wildfires. We know we’re just one small participant in the impact, and that the whole of the Cariboo needs support.”
Meanwhile, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association chair Andrea Keurbis says he is working alongside Destination BC to ensure tourism is restored this year.
A long-term recovery strategy has been implemented, he says, adding marketing plans are more prudent than ever, as is partnering with booking agents and journalists all over the world to promote travel and re-establish interest.
“We are very resilient. Yes, we went through a harsh time, but it has made us stronger. [The fires were] a natural cycle, and after fire comes new life.”
Keurbis says he is certain B.C. tourism will inevitably recover. Collective efforts within the province will be crucial to achieve this.
“The best way to do that is to come out and visit this beautiful area and the great product we have to explore.”