The BC Visitor Centre in Merritt reports a slight drop in visitations this year, but management says an increase in revenue and bookings is making up for it.
The province's BC Visitor Centre (BCVC) in Merritt, located near the Coldwater Interchange at Highways 5 and 97C, reports 62,000 visitors to Merritt during its busy season between April and September, an 11 per cent drop in visitations from 2010.
The BCVC attributes the decline to several factors, including the unusually cooler weather in June and July as well as the strength of the Canadian dollar.
"I think a lot of British Columbians are choosing to travel to the states this year," says Visitor Centre manager Cora-Lee Sarasin. "We definitely saw a decrease in British Columbian visitors."
Although the B.C. market cooled off this summer, there was an increase in visits from tourists from other provinces and internationally from places like the Unites States, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Also increasing this year are revenue and activity bookings. The Visitor Centre reports a 12 per cent increase in revenue from June, 1 per cent in July, and 12 per cent in August compared to the same period last year. Accommodation and activity bookings were up 23 per cent overall—statistics, the result of which the BCVC says has a direct benefit on the community and local tourism operators.
"Our main objective is to increase length of stay and generate return visits, and the results of this season show that the staff have been successful in doing this," said Sarasin.
Bookings made through the BCVC for Merritt accommodations have increased 56 per cent over 2010.
"We can make reservations for almost any community in the province," says operations manager Amanda Wilkinson. "The fact that Merritt reservations are up shows that the staff have really been encouraging people to stay here before moving on to their next destination," said Wilkinson.
On Oct. 7, the City of Merritt welcomed 10 German tourism operators as part of the Canada Specialist RV familiarization tour. The visitors were given a tour by another visitor centre in Merritt, the City of Merritt Visitor Information Centre, located at the Baillie house downtown.
In addition to discounted bookings for hotels, the BCVC in Merritt offers tickets for B.C. getaways and attractions, and even for BC Ferries.
"We can get great rates on hotels and huge savings to attractions, such as the Vancouver Aquarium, Capilano Suspension Bridge, and the BC Wildlife Park, among others," says Sarasin. "We also sell BC Ferries vouchers and make ferry reservations free of charge … the service has been very popular with visitors because they can pay with debit, which they can't do at the ferry terminal.
"The BCVC is not just for visitors," she adds. "We have a lot of great services that locals can use as well."
BCVC in Merritt is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is one of 138 Visitor Centres in the province.
BC Visitor Centre enhanced with new signage
Earlier this fall, the Province spruced up the BC Visitor Centre in Merritt with a new exterior sign, a new B.C. map, and photos inside the building.
"The new signs have really increased the professional image of the Centre," says Sarasin. "We'd love for some locals to come up and check out the improvements and get some information on their next B.C. getaway."
BC Visitor Centres are identified by their blue-and-yellow logo. They offer services, including professional visitor counselling, travel information and literature, and accommodation reservations.