Tourism isn't showing up as anything more than a minor blip on the radar as the city ponders whether it wants to become a mining town, a public forum on the Ajax proposal concluded Sunday at TRU.
Yet the scale and proximity of the open-pit operation have the potential to undermine tourism as well as the city's long-term potential to attract new residents, the forum was told.
The values that make the Thompson-Okanagan the No. 2 tourism destination in B.C. have also become part of Kamloops' identity, values that attract new residents to Kamloops and keep them here, said Rob Hood, an associate professor with TRU's tourism management school.
"This place Kamloops is very special and I really believe that," Hood said. "That's one reason why we're standing up here today."
Hood, an expert in rural tourism and community development, and fellow faculty member John Hull, who has worked in community-based tourism development, gave an overview of the sector and outlined their concerns.
Tourism, which contributes $1.7 billion to the regional economy, is not being given sufficient consideration in the environmental assessment process, they said.
"The fact that tourism is mentioned only once (in the application information requirements) is not acceptable in terms of the evaluation or assessment of this sector," Hull said.
A proposal of the scale and proximity of the proposed open-pit mine requires a cost/benefit analysis to determine how it would affect other sectors, Hull said.
Hood said there is unrealized potential in the sector; a million visitors come to the region annually while the room occupancy rate hovers around 60 per cent. Sports tourism is but one facet of that. Kamloops' Tournament Capital moniker doesn't do full justice to the region's attractions, he said, listing angling and skiing as a couple of important examples.
"It's starting to give some identity and we've become known nationally and internationally as a sports tourism destination," he said.
Hosted by the human rights committee of the TRU Faculty Association, the forum was intended to add to the public debate about the mine proposal.
Hull worked in tourism in New Zealand, which projects one of the strongest destination identities in the world with images of snow-capped mountains and green valleys. B.C. is similarly endowed.
Like most other arrivals, he came by the Coquihalla Highway, enjoying grassland scenery the like of which he'd never before seen. Visual impacts of the mine ought to be a major concern.
"What kind of image is going to be presented of Kamloops with a mine on its doorstep," he asked, pointing to cost/benefit analysis done in New Zealand when increased mining was considered.
"There's a need to be considering these issues with more depth when you're looking at mining. It's not intended to diminish the value of mining. It's to show the value of tourism which, in my mind, is often under-represented."
At the outset, Hood polled the 117 people who attended, hoping the event had attracted the undecided. Only a half-dozen people raised their hands to indicate they have not taken a stand for or against. Most, with the exception of one or two, indicated their opposition to the mine.
Dale Redfern, one audience member, commented that the world economy is in crisis and regional tourism is waning.
"Where do the tourists get their money from," he asked rhetorically, implying that mining's importance should not be overlooked.
Hull responded by saying that the greatest accumulation of wealth in history and more leisure time mean that tourism will continue to be robust.
Lee Morris, CEO with Tourism Kamloops, pointed out that the city has made submissions to the environmental assessment office on the visual impacts of the proposed mine.
Mayor Peter Milobar, who was unable to attend the forum, commented beforehand, saying the mine's design will ultimately determine the extent of visual impacts. Would they be any greater than the sight of existing industry in the valley, he wondered.
"The biggest problem is that we don't know the new design looks like, so it's a discussion of theoreticals," he said.