While Willow Cabral and Ryan Smith, the Parksville Downtown Business Association’s (PDBA) 2017 youth ambassadors, are meant to help guests in the downtown core, Cabral has a different perspective when approaching people.
Cabral and Smith, who are both going into Grade 12 at Ballenas Secondary School in the fall, are the third set of recruits for the PDBA’s annual initiative. In a 10-week period, the two students will be greeting tourists and locals in the downtown core while also gathering information and helping to direct the guests into the downtown businesses.
Smith has lived in Parksville his entire life, but Cabral moved to the area in 2010.
“Before I moved here, my grandparents moved here a few years earlier so we would come for vacation every summer,” said Cabral. “I kind of got that whole tourist feel, so I can kind of relate to the tourists and places they want to visit, having gone through that same experience when I was a tourist here.”
But Smith said he has a different approach.
“I’ve been to most places to eat or shop and everything, so I can give them my personal opinion,” he said. “When you’re around downtown, you don’t think this is a big tourist place if you’ve lived here all your life and then now you start meeting people. We’ve got people from Saskatchewan, Yukon, and you’re like ‘I guess this is a pretty sweet place to live if everyone’s coming down here.”
PDBA executive director Pam Bottomley said in the past two years, the project has taken on a bit of the character of “the great teams we’re able to attract to this role.” She said each year the job shifts a bit with the students’ interests, expertise, skills and talents.
Cabral, who wants to go into sciences after graduating, said this job caught her eye because of the data collected.
“This job is kind of a research statistical analysis that kind of encompasses finding out where these tourists originate from, kind of surveying traffic flow between downtown and the beach,” Cabral said.
“Just all these different things you don’t really think about, but when you observe them and record them and kind of display them on a graph or a chart, you can really see patterns.”
Smith said he’s looking forward to talking to everyone and meeting the people behind the businesses.
“You don’t really see all these different personalities. You don’t get to meet all these different people,” Smith said.
The PDBA encompasses businesses from the waterfront to Jensen Avenue and McVickers Street to McMillan Street. The association receives $150,000 annually in funding from a tax levy on all commercial properties within the business improvement area.
Bottomley said the whole emphasis of the youth ambassadors is to get people circulating throughout downtown and into the businesses.
“It’s one of our absolute most important projects that we’ve ever done,” said Bottomley. “It’s had the most impact and we have in our goal to build a 365-day a year economy. We’re also here to enhance the experience for locals, so we call everyone who comes downtown our guest.”
At the end of the 10-week period, Bottomley said the youth ambassadors will be presenting their findings to Parksville city council.
“Often, city council takes action on things that they’ve discovered. They have a unique perspective because, like I say, they’re out there six hours a day for 10 weeks — none of us do that,” Bottomley said.