Seaside cottages boost tourism in Campbell River
With the expansion of Thunderbird RV Park and Resort, Vancouver Island-based Wei Wai Kum Nation is showing how First Nations are investing in the expansion of reliably performing tourism businesses to create significant new sources of revenue and jobs for their people.
Thirty-seven years ago, Wei Wai Kum leaders decided to turn a piece of Tyee Spit that forms part of its largest reserve into a public campground. Thanks largely to Sandra Malone, a Wei Wai Kum member who has managed it since 1992, the Thunderbird RV Park has been cultivated into a friendly, service-oriented campsite for RVs and tenters.
Malone and former Chief Councillor of Wei Wai Kum Nation, Bob Pollard were perceiving signals that maybe Thunderbird’s true potential hadn’t yet been tapped. “The question became: Can Thunderbird do more for us?” says Pollard. Constructing cottages looked like a promising way to reach an additional market. The Nation would eventually construct four cottages and additional RV sites.
Today, the completed cottages offer private, front-row views of the estuary and all of its waterborne traffic—like seabirds, swans, kayakers, seaplanes, and occasionally, whales. Malone says the cottages are about 95 per cent booked in the high season, about 50 to 60 per cent booked during their first (only) shoulder season, and completely taken up over Christmas. The 18 new RV sites have been snapped up by extended-stay visitors.
Malone says Indigenous culture sparks high interest among many visitors, particularly Europeans. “They’re looking for it! They want to know where there are totem poles, where they can see dancing, visit museums, galleries—everything about First Nations. And they’re very respectful.”