Local Journalism Initiative
A new rebranded Visitor Information Centre (VIC) is set to open in the middle of Green Square, funded and supported through the Town of Hinton.
Travel Alberta announced in January that it would no longer fund Hinton’s VIC as of May 2020.
“We’re no longer a Travel Alberta centre, we are a visitor information centre,” stated Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber operated the centre for more than 20 years with funding from the Alberta government between the May long weekend and Thanksgiving weekend in the fall, while the municipality funded the remainder of the year through their service agreement.
The service agreement includes the creation and distribution of the Hinton Visitor Guide, providing visitor services, and other organizing events like the Canada Day parade.
Charlton explained that the Town is taking $31,000 from their economic development budget and topping up the service agreement to enable the Chamber to operate the centre this summer.
The Hinton VIC was in its second year of a three year contract with the province, funding $77,000 annually.
“We’re going to take this on a year to year basis, just to see how this goes. In order for us to run the centre again next year, we will be looking for more support and we hope that Yellowhead County will be in a position to maybe help us next year,” Charlton said.
She added that their funding ask to the County came at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, which may not have been the best timing.
The Chamber is currently waiting to hear from the Town of Hinton when they can open, since it is a municipal-owned building.
The tentative open date for the VIC is set for June 18.
Due to circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic, operations of the VIC will be modified until restrictions are lifted.
To avoid too many people entering the building, a gate will be placed to allow one visitor party at a time to come into the vestibule area.
A provincial map on the wall will allow the visitor to explain which area they are interested in receiving information on, Charlton said.
Staff can then look after getting all of the brochures together with sterilized hands.
“I’m anticipating by July and August that people within our province are going to be moving around but they will have to practice social distancing. We will have the lines out on the concrete and we’re only allowing one visiting party in the centre at a time,” Charlton said.
The VIC is part of the Chamber’s new multi-dimensional initiative to boost tourism regionally, called Explore Hinton.
Through the Explore Hinton project, the chamber hopes to showcase Hinton experiences online, and encourage locals and non-locals to explore Hinton.
The project includes a website with visuals, local content, and social media, and the new rebranded VIC.
“The town has been very very supportive in the collaboration on the website and we’re working very closely with economic development and they have been very very supportive in helping us in this process,” Charlton said.
In order to provide visitor services, Charlton explained they had to be creative in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and came up with a new website that includes a bit of a virtual experience.
Frequently asked questions will be answered via the new website and businesses, groups, community initiatives, and popular activities will be showcased.
The Chamber hired three university students to work at the centre and in the community to collect data and work in an ambassador capacity.
They’re going to wear their Explore Hinton t-shirts and frequent tourism spots to find where visitors are going and what they’re interested in.
Through the Explore Hinton initiative, the chamber hopes to send visitors to local sites like the Hinton Mountain Bike Association, disc golf, the Beaver Boardwalk, golf, and other local spots.
Charlton said the chamber has already met with a number of local tourism-related businesses to talk about how to get involved.
“The other thing, there has been some funding from Travel Alberta for product development and cooperative marketing and we’re really trying to share that with all of the tourism related businesses so that perhaps we can try to assist in collaborating to write some of these grant funds that are available,” Charlton added.
Justin Brattinga, press secretary of the economic development, trade, and tourism Minister, told The Voice in February that the decision to close a number of Alberta’s VICs was due to a drastic reduction in foot traffic and engagement over the last three years.
He added that there is a dramatic shift in visitors accessing information via various online resources.
The chamber said while numbers dropped since 2017, there are reasonable explanations such as a drop in 2018 after free national park passes in 2017 and heavy rain in 2019, plus the closure of one of Jasper’s major campgrounds.
The new Explore Hinton project is supported by the Town of Hinton through the Strategic Services and Economic Development departments.
“Not having tourism in our town is not an option—tourism is a major economic driver in our community. Healthy tourism means a healthy community,” stated the Chamber’s news letter.
“We’ll be reaching out to many of you over the summer to talk about how we can make Explore Hinton work for you.”
To get involved with Explore Hinton or to learn more about the Travel Alberta grant opportunity, contact the Chamber at (780) 865-2777 or email email@example.com.