The manager of Nakusp’s tourist information office says the service is still needed, despite declining user numbers.
“Numbers are dropping for people coming to visitor centres because people can find information online,” says Cedra Eichenhauer. “We have been bucking that trend until this year.”
Statistics submitted by the centre to the village council earlier this month showed a significant drop in the number of people using the service, located on 6th Avenue next to the library. Twenty per cent fewer people came looking for information in the third quarter of this year, making the year-over-year average down about 16.6 per cent.
However, those numbers don’t likely reflect fewer visitors actually coming to the area, she says.
“I’ve been asking local businesses if they’ve had a busier year this year,” said Eichenhauer. “A couple were down, a couple were up, and some were about the same,” she says. “While we don’t have a big sample size for meaningful data, it seems visitors to Nakusp weren’t down, just my numbers were down.”
It’s not likely the numbers will improve to year’s end, as the centre enters into its quiet winter season. Unlike many other Kootenay visitor centres, Nakusp’s is open year-round.
“There is usually one out-of-town visitor a day this time of year, but there are actually days when I don’t see anyone at all,” says Eichenhauer. “We do get locals coming in to use the washroom, or who are planning for the summer or a trip of their own out of town.”
Visitor’s centres have been meeting the trend online by providing more services like live chat on their websites, says Eichenhauer. While the local centre is on Facebook, it’s not likely going to expand beyond that for now, she says.
“We are a very small office here. I’m the only one year-round,” she says. “In the summertime I have staff, they can help me, but I can’t monitor three social media channels by myself in winter and get other things done.”
In Nakusp, however, there’s still a need for a real person behind a desk, says Eichenhauer.
“Part of the reason we’ve been able to buck the trend is not everybody in our community is on all those websites,” she said. “But it is growing, definitely.”
And visitors still find that not everything can be discovered online. A good example was a French tourist, who came to the centre during the Arrow Lakes News interview.
“He’s a perfect example,” Eichenhauer said after the man had left. “He knew about the Nakusp hot springs, but not about the hiking trail and covered bridge just down from there.
“He said, ‘Hey, I want to do that’,” she pointed out. “But he wouldn’t ask ‘Is there a bridge?’ Why would he?
“One thing about getting information online is, you don’t know what you’re not asking.”
Eichenhauer says the centre surprises a lot of visitors.
“A lot of people come in with one question, and leave 20 minutes later with way more ideas then they knew they wanted,” she said.
And there’s the ultimate service the centre provides.
“One of the jokes in the visitor centre world is until they find a way to digitize the bathroom, we’ll still have a place,” she laughs.
The visitor centre is open in winter from Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.