The following is released to Sooke PocketNews by Brian White, Director, School of Tourism and Hospitality, Faculty of Management, Royal Roads University. This Report summarizes five months of research, and was presented to the District of Sooke and the public at a Council Meeting held on December 7, 2015. For those who didn’t or couldn’t attend, and for those who wish to review the project summary, here is the Powerpoint presentation followed by the full report.
Click on the first image to view it in full, then use your Right cursor key to scroll through the presentation.[unitegallery destination_framework]
Developing a Destination Framework Project for Downtown Sooke: Summary Report
Akhmetov, S., Benjackson, V., Dai, Y., Fagan, C., Freeman, R., Hamilton, J., Hoadley, S., Jiang, Yuqi, Liu., J., Lu, L., MacRae, K., Wang, J., Wang, K., White, B.
This document summarizes five months’ worth of research undertaken by Royal Roads University’s Master in Tourism Management students during the fall of 2015. The research culminated in a presentation to the Sooke Council and public attendees on Monday December 7 th . The intent of the research was expressed in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Mayor Maja Tait and Dr. Steve Grundy, VP Academic for RRU. The terms of reference were: ‘To develop a Sooke Destination Framework Project’, so there has been lots of scope for interpretation and focus in the student projects. The focus of the report is on the new ‘Downtown Sooke’ currently under development consideration.
This summary provides key findings that are the result of interviews with Sooke residents, Council Members, the Chamber of Commerce, interviews with Tofino planners, and observations of other Vancouver Island communities. A field trip to Tofino and other up-island communities was undertaken in September. Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne and her planning team offered assistance, particularly in ideas for downtown parking.
Considerable research was also conducted into other communities, covering a wide range of opportunities such as farmer’s markets, brew pubs, retail, weddings, retirement, and alternative energy opportunities. The overall intent has been to provide an assemblage of key ideas and concepts- not to provide a full consultant’s report. This summary is based on student notes, and is presented in a format which parallels the PowerPoint that was presented to Acting Mayor Kevin Pearson and Council on December 7th.
Sooke Vision and Sense of Place
A first step was to try and understand the ‘essence’ of Sooke. We concluded it was a bit like an onion, the more you peeled the more you discover, but in many cases, Sooke’s destination appeal is presently well hidden. However, opportunities are well known to particular tourist/visitor populations based on recreational activities- biking, fishing, whale watching, hiking, surfing, kayaking, etc. Accommodations and restaurants are well represented for a current level of use. However, many visitors come for the recreational opportunities but don’t leave much money behind, as they tend to be day trippers.
Sooke has a rich and ancient First Nations cultural tradition, and a long history of European settlement which goes back to the earliest settlers of Vancouver Island. There is an exceptional capacity for music, arts and entertainment in Sooke, and also substantial capability to present special events and festivals based on a community of strong volunteers. These assets are hidden and spread out and from an externally viewed perspective. Sooke does not present a strong Sense of Place, although residents might see that very differently. Sooke is presently economically positioned as a ‘bedroom community’ for workers in Victoria or other South Island communities. As a young municipality, Sooke has yet to develop a definable centre, and the existing shopping malls and commercial strips do not benefit from the magnificent waterfront view of the Basin. The Sense of Place for visitors is not readily available.
We concluded that the water-view from a well-designed, walkable and bike- friendly downtown is the ‘unique selling proposition’ that Sooke needs to build a modern, service-based economy .
The idea that “A good place to live is a good place to visit” means that amenities for residents and visitors alike need to be put in place as a priority in developing an exciting and viable downtown. To attract investors that are willing to provide for additional infrastructure development, quality landscaping, and a diversity of business, accommodation, and recreational opportunities, a case needs to be made that the overall development will be economically sound and sustainable. One particular consideration is the development of a Medical-Dental Building, including expanded medical services and a more substantial an x-ray facility- a significant requirement for any destination and a long-term need for Sooke.
Our research indicated that the role of entrepreneurs is underestimated in models of destination competitiveness, and the role of Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) is overemphasized. Without innovative, committed and risk-taking entrepreneurs no destination is to flourish, and municipalities play an important role as facilitators of entrepreneurial environment.
Downtown Design Considerations
Cittaslow is an ideal framework for Sooke in that the Cittaslow movement focuses on community, relationships, and looking after the needs of local people. For Sooke, building a downtown core that emphasizes spending time outside with the family, enjoying recreational opportunities, shopping and food ideas, will be key to engaging residents and visitors alike (Slow Cowichan, 2015). We collectively felt that the existing design guidelines in the Sooke Official Community Plan work well for the town centre. Typical contemporary west coast architecture coupled with the industrial look of reclaimed wood will emphasize the heritage theme of Sooke and its rich maritime, industrial, and agricultural history.
The design elements for Downtown Sooke, in our opinion, should revolve around the water and a marine or nautical theme. Using the existing industrial elements coupled with the authentic nautical look will give Sooke the feel of authenticity. Large garage doors, open spaces, industrial reclaimed wood 3 and a natural west coast theme for the proposed brewpub build on the exterior design ideas. Developing lofts and apartment condos in the downtown core will enable a “living” feel in the new downtown core. This feeling of the downtown being alive will help attract new residents to the area.
Connecting Wiffin Spit and East Sooke to the new downtown via Aquabus will enable easier access to activity clusters and will give both locals and tourists a way to access downtown easily and encourage a pedestrian atmosphere. Extending the boardwalk was a sentiment that we heard frequently. Linkages around Sooke Basin are seen as essential to the viability of the Town Centre, including carefully considered access to the waterfront itself. The steep banks will require pilings and thoughtful design to provide public access to the waterfront. The Brew Pub should be positioned to take advantage of the view close to the waterfront. A consideration in waterfront design is likely to be wharf and marina development. Both are apparently on hold at the moment, given the recent development of oyster farming and expanded clam gardening by the T’Sou-ke Nation. Also the waterfront is shallow and tidal, so it may be necessary to develop waterfront boardwalks above the high tide line.
Friendly and inviting yet exposed to the elements and nature is what Sooke is all about, (for example), “Where adrenaline meets heritage”, (or) “visit for an hour, stay for a lifetime”. Developing a brand that is supported by stakeholders requires public involvement- but it’s unlikely that a full consensus will be reached. The most effective branding has been achieved by Tofino and Whistler, where the town name is the brand.
It is worth noting that the approach used in both places has been that extensive consultation and public input has been solicited on tourism-related issues, but the decision to go ahead with new infrastructure, branding, or other initiatives has been made by Mayor and Council.
To continue with the Cittaslow theme, shopping opportunities emphasizing artists and the five ideas that Pine and Gilmore (1998) propose in the Experience Economy in designing a memorable experience will be effective in Sooke:
- Theme the experience
- Harmonize impressions with positive cues
- Eliminate negative cues
- Mix in memorabilia
- Engage all five senses.
Pine, B. J., & Gilmore, J. H. (1998)
Champions are essential when looking at Product Development and Marketing. Their unbounded enthusiasm will push the agenda forward. There are ONLY three killers of any branding effort:
- Local politics, which are typically worse with membership organizations than with elected officials.
- Lack of champions who will push the agenda forward and will “sell” it, bringing in more champions.
- Lack of money (both private and public).
The bottom line: If you have true champions, they will ALWAYS get through the politics and they will find the money. ALWAYS.
(Squamish Action Plan, 2014, p. 8)
Governance for tourism is likely to be rather controversial in Sooke, given the range of agencies involved in tourism-related activities presently. We suggest a participant-governed organization, where members themselves collaborate to achieve goals, particularly goals that would otherwise be outside the reach of individual stakeholders. Participant-governed network relations are generally decentralised, less formal and dependent upon the social and human capital that exists in its members. A grassroots community network is an example of this governance arrangement, with the “committee” made up of community champions from several stakeholder organizations. The Municipality often contributes inkind support, resources and leadership. Clear roles and responsibilities of participants, clear operational structures and guidelines provide clarity for key areas including marketing, website, special events, calendar, and sector activities. (Beaumont, N., & Dredge, D. (2010)
Slow Cowichan (2015) Retrieved from: http://slowcowichan.com/
Collaboration is important as it provides (Jefferson & Lickorish, 1991):
- Reduced antagonism (resentment or rivalry) between public and private sectors
- Avoiding duplication of work
- Combined funding potential and thus-
- Increased funding potential
- Creation of a win/win situation
- Combined areas of experience
- Additional Resources
The Squamish Brand and Marketing plan was developed through a collaborative community process between Tourism Squamish , the people of Squamish, and 17 key volunteers. The Squamish brand Leadership Team included:
- Business Owners
- Tourism Squamish
- Town Council
- First Nation
- Business Association
Source: Squamish Branding, Development, and Marketing Action Plan (2014)
Collaboration for community-based tourism planning is a process of joint decision making among autonomous, key stakeholders of an inter-organizational, community tourism domain to resolve planning problems of the domain and/or to manage issues related to the planning and development of the domain. Collaboration is essential for small communities and can be completed in a 3 step process (Gray 1989):
First Stage: Identifying key stakeholders and issues
Second Stage: Direction setting (identifying and sharing future collaborative interpretations; appreciating a sense of common purpose).
Third Stage: Implementation (institutionalizing the shared meanings that emerge as the domain develops)
Squamish has faced similar challenges that Sooke is currently facing, so by examining their 2014 Branding, Development, and Marketing Action Plan one can better understand how marketing works in such a destination. Like Sooke, Squamish had similar problems of competition with other communities in the region and needed to overcome the perception of being a pit stop on the way to Whistler. Sooke faces similar challenges in that it needs to compete with Victoria and many other waterfront communities such as Sidney, Cowichan Bay and even Tofino, and that it must overcome its perception of being a bedroom community with no town center life.
Another challenge in BC is that every community in the province promotes its outstanding recreation activities. So how can one differentiate Sooke? People visiting Victoria are looking for different activities which provide Sooke with a marketing edge. Although promoting outdoor activities has been done over and over again, in combination with the Cittaslow concept and new town center Sooke should be able to differentiate itself. For example, Sooke’s closeness to Victoria provides a competitive advantage over Cowichan Bay, which requires a drive over the Malahat.
Sooke is a peripheral Community which is defined by a number of factors including: distance, accessibility, visitor perceptions, and scale (Prideaux, 2002, p. 381). The success of tourism in the 6 periphery at the first order of magnitude is largely dependent on two factors: the presence of something worth visiting and the accessibility of the attraction (Prideaux, 2002, p. 381).
Sooke is approximately 40km or a 45 minute drive from downtown Victoria, so its accessibility via car or bus is suitable for day trips. We are promoting a cluster approach which provides many different attractions and activities within an accessible area around Sooke. It would be very beneficial to increase cyclist access and identify Sooke as a Cycling Mecca. Supporting the cluster of recreational activities (hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking) the town centre should provide a sports rental store and additional recreationally oriented shops, a full service spa, additional restaurants, downtown visitor information centre, a book Store, First Nations Art shop, and of course a Brew Pub. An additional opportunity is Continuing Education, presently offered by Royal Roads University in Sooke. Sooke is already on the map as a wedding destination, and the new town centre should further develop this theme as it is economically valuable.
The proposed brewpub is crucial in building and marketing Sooke as a destination brand, because it provides a strong food and beverage- based focal point for recreationalists. Its offerings should include locally sourced food, wine and mead, fresh craft beer, and local music. Being associated with a small hotel or hostel would also provide a strong focusing factor. Activities in the brewpub could include Music Nights, New Season Craft Beer Tasting Parties, and a Craft Beer Themed Dinner.
From the information gathered from the Victoria Exit Survey (2013) it was found that 60% of returning visitors would be interested in participating in the same activities on a return trip but would also be interested in new experiences. This provides a significant opportunity for Sooke as it is close enough to Downtown Victoria to offer alternative activities to those who are interested in returning. As seen in the data it is clear that those who stay overnight tend to engage in more activities so it is important for Sooke to have an established tourism presence and then build the capacity to support more overnight trips (Victoria exit survey, 2013). The market must be established to attract hotel and other investors. The data shows that the most popular activities include: walking around the city, enjoying food and beverage, relaxing, and shopping. A new town centre in Sooke would be able to provide all of the aforementioned activities and if a Cittaslow atmosphere is established, it will offer opportunities to relax and unwind.
When examining the intentions of travellers vs the actual experiences they engage in when visiting Victoria the largest discrepancies are:
- Marine and wild life viewing -8%
- Water based activities -7%
- Historical/Heritage sites -6%
- Outdoor Recreation -5%
Sooke has the ability to provide all these activities but may be wise to conduct more research on why respondents are not currently participating. It is possible that Victoria was unable to provide them? Was it due to poor timing? These are some questions that future research could help answer.
So, overall the domestic/ close in US target market would be:
- Locals looking to make day trips
- Returning tourists Looking for new experiences
- New tourists who are staying longer than 3 nights
- Tourists looking for outdoor adventure.
- Provide services that would appeal to the market who like places to walk, eat, relax, and shop.
An important emerging target market is Chinese Tourists, who are arriving in Victoria in increasing numbers. The primary attractions for Chinese tourists would be farm visits and local restaurants, golf and fishing, handcrafts and wedding tourism. Combining farm, fishing and local restaurants together builds a theme of culinary tourism for Chinese tourists. The predominant means of touring for the Chinese is presently group travel, but FIT (Fully independent travel) is starting to increase, and there are more Chinese parents visiting with their offspring who are studying in Victoria. Packages for farm and restaurant visits in association with Food Chi could be established, also chartered fishing trips.
Summary of Recommendations
- Use Cittislow approach, with west coast design/authentic Sooke maritime heritage elements.
- Build a ‘Coalition of the Willing!’
- Develop a stakeholder- based governance structure.
- Name the downtown! Build the Sooke Brand.
- Opportunities for local families and visitors- farmer’s market, bakery, specialty shops, playground, waterfront access, performance venue.
- Build event-based opportunities for visitors- festivals, music events, culinary, wine, weddings, fishing charters, etc.
- Densify the downtown- condominiums, rental units for residents above commercial spaces.
- Develop Sooke destination tourism as part of the regional economic development strategy.
- Provide alternative transportation, well-designed perimeter parking around town centre.
- Link downtown cycling to the Galloping Goose!
- Develop educational tourism opportunities, particularly continuing education.
- Build a medical-dental center.
- Promote retirement living in Sooke.
- Develop a sustainable energy capacity for the downtown area and promote sustainable energy entrepreneurialism in the town centre.
Beaumont, N., & Dredge, D. (2010). Local tourism governance: a comparison of three network approaches. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 18(1), 7-28
Dredge, D., Pforr, C., Scott, N., Baggio, R., & Cooper, C. (2008). Tourism policy networks: Implications for governance and third way politics. Cleveden, UK: Channel View Publications.
Freeman, R., & Thomlinson, E. (2014). Mountain bike tourism and community development in British Columbia: critical success factors for the future. Tourism Review International, 18(1), 9-22.
Functions of local government – Good Governance Guide. (2012.). Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.goodgovernance.org.au/about-good-governance/role-of-local-government/
Gray, B. (1989). Collaborating: Finding common ground for multiparty problems. Josey Bass. Pine, B. J., & Gilmore, J. H. (1998). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review, 76, 97-105.
Jefferson, A., & Lickorish, L. (1991). Marketing tourism: A practical guide. Longman Group UK Limited. Squamish Branding, Development, and Marketing Action Plan (2014). Retrieved from: http://squamish.ca/assets/Squamish-Branding-Development-Marketing-Plan-09302014.pdf
Pröbstl-Haider, U., Melzer, V., & Jiricka, A. (2014). Rural tourism opportunities: strategies and requirements for destination leadership in peripheral areas. Tourism Review, 69(3), 216-228.
Prideaux, 2002, p. 381 Creating rural heritage visitor attractions—the Queensland Heritage Trails project International Journal of Tourism Research. Volume 4, Issue 4, pages 313–323, July/August 2002
Slow Cowichan (2015) Retrieved from: http://slowcowichan.com/ Tourism Victoria Bulletin. Prepared by Chemistry Consulting (2013) Year in Review Tourism Statistics – Greater Victoria), BC Stats (Room revenues and property counts – April 2013)