Jim Humphrey, chair of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, also serves as the chair of the Tourism Industry Association of BC.
As a resort owner himself, he’s got his finger on the pulse of the tourist industry at the Lake.
The chamber itself had a challenging year, he said. Part of this involved extended negotiations with the Town of Lake Cowichan over the fee-for-service contract for the Visitors Centre, which had expired. “That took quite a few man hours on our behalf and the town’s behalf,” he said.
However, the chamber likes to ensure that the Visitors Centre itself doesn’t take a lot of the chamber’s time.
“How we have structured it is the executive committee of the chamber [the chair, the vice-chair and the treasurer] are responsible for the centre. And the other directors are responsible for doing the lion’s share of the responsibility for the chamber itself and our businesses,” Humphrey said.
“Our membership is up this past year, so that’s a good sign. But there seems to be this idea among some members that the chamber’s purpose is to fill their establishment with people. That’s really not the purpose of a chamber of commerce: it’s to grow and enhance businesses within the community and advocate on behalf of the business with the various politicians.
“I find that one of the most difficult things to overcome in Lake Cowichan. We can certainly promote and market Cowichan Lake as a place to come and visit and dine and stay and all of those kinds of things but if people don’t come, it’s hard for us to do much more than that. That’s something the chamber has struggled with for a long time,” he said.
The run-up to the first Sunfest at Laketown Ranch took up a lot of energy but it was a learning experience for everyone in business at Lake Cowichan.
“We admitted afterwards that we probably went a little bit too big. We should have focused a little smaller. We didn’t do as well as we thought we would do. But people here didn’t realize that when people come to Sunfest they’re coming to Sunfest. They’re not coming to visit Lake Cowichan per se.
The vast majority of them live, drink, and eat on Sunfest property for those three days. We figured out that we advertised to the wrong people.
“This year we’re still going to be involved with Sunfest but we’re going to try to make it a festival as well for the people of Lake Cowichan, Honeymoon Bay and Youbou. We’re not going to expect a lot of Sunfesters to come into town,” Humphrey said.
Lake Cowichan businesses have one advantage.
“We don’t have to sell the beauty of the area. It’s the best place to live as far as I’m concerned.
But, it’s important for visitors to think:’ Gee, they do a lot of fun things here. When I’m looking at retiring, let’s move to Cowichan Lake!’ If we can bring them here on one-offs, the next thing you know those same people are driving here once a month, or even once a week and wanting to go to a restaurant for a meal. Whatever they do, it’s more business for our local entrepreneurs.
“You don’t see the growth so quickly that way. We all want it to be faster but these things do take time,” he said.
People are already coming to Lake Cowichan, drawn by its reasonable real estate prices.
New businesses have also arrived, including Poochies dog grooming, the Loonie Bin Emporium, Dot’s Shoe Store, named after Dot Lungal, who owned the Footwear Centre for many years, Rayzors Traditional Barber Shop, and Carmanah Pizza.
“You don’t have to look very far to see the new faces in our communities. I think too many people compare us with some other places.
“In the 17 years I’ve lived in Cowichan Lake area I’ve seen huge strides. The appearance of our drive through of Lake Cowichan with our boulevards, that beautiful entrance sign. Those kinds of things take the dust off the town, they make it look beautiful.
“There are some people who complain, but I think the town has done a bang-up job of trying to set the scene of Lake Cowichan as a thriving community and in a lot of aspects we are. We’re a growing community and we have to welcome that and build on that. We can’t just sit back and say, well, that’s done; now we don’t have to do anything for another 20 years. You have to keep going. It never stops.”