The Parskville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, with the help of Tourism Cafe, is working on enhancing food tourism in the region. From left are PQBT executive director Blain Sepos, Lesley Anderson and Nancy Arseneault of Tourism Cafe. — Michael Briones Photo

Parksville-Qualicum association cooking up recipes for food tourism

Stakeholders gather for brainstorming session to expand marketing strategy

The Parskville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association is cooking up possible recipes that will help make the region more palatable for tourists in the future.

Food tourism is a growing trend across the country and here on Vancouver Island. The PQBTA now wants it to be included in the area’s destination marketing strategy.

Last Thursday, May 25, the PQBTA gathered stakeholders at the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort and Conference Centre for a brainstorming session. To help create a collective vision, it has hired Tourism Cafe.

Stakeholders were exposed to different food tourism examples from across Canada and were given the chance to draw inspiration from a variety of exercises conducted throughout the one-day session.

Nancy Arsenault of Tourism Cafe indicated that based on their research, there are markets that are willing to pay for premium experiences. What Tourism Cafe aims to do is to discover successful food tourism recipes that can be applied to the region’s tourism strategy down the road.

“At the very front of the development is determining how we could add value, and that value that comes from this region has to be for the traveller — because they would have to choose to come here,” said Arsenault. “The purpose of this gathering is to see what we would like to be doing in five years.”

The plan includes looking at the current foundation of success in the region and explore how stakeholders can do things that are fundamentally different from other places on the Island such as the Cowichan Valley, Tofino and the Comox Valley.

“What we’re looking at is having to work with stakeholders to help them to find that,” said Arsenault, who added that when businesses do decide to invest in it, they would be targeting specific guests “not just throwing stuff and doing that kind of one-off.”

“We want to understand the individual business opportunities and the connection between businesses so there’s a vision for the area that people can be excited about.”

Lesley Anderson, the learning and development facilitator of Tourism Cafe, pointed out that food tourism doesn’t have to be limited to just restaurants.

“There’s lots of different ways people want to experience food,” Anderson explained. “They can be going out to a farm to meet farmers and learning about how the food is grown. It can be going to local restaurants that are serving specialties from the area. It can be cooking classes, farm table dinners, wine tasting, and going into breweries. There’s a multitude of ways that people are looking to connect with what we call the taste of the place, the local food scene.”

Blain Sepos, executive director of PQBTA, cited Little Qualicum Cheese Works as one of the area’s successful food producers that can be one of the region’s future food tourism draws.

“Not only do they have the farm where you can go and have good guided tours, there’s also the food production and the sampling of the cheese, the wine and now they have a café there,” Sepos pointed out. “They also hold different events throughout the year so they have really created a food tourism experience there.”

Whatever themes were generated from the session, Sepos said PQBTA will work on what might be the most logical step to take to work with the stakeholders.

“We might basically find that there are some things we can start immediately and maybe there are some others things that we may really have to plan for,” said Sepos.

Arsenault said this local initiative ties in well with British Columbia’s tourism plans.

“Destination British Columbia is looking at finding new ways and everybody can contribute in different ways,” said Arsenault. “There’s amazing stuff that’s always going on in the area and we know that this is one of the main tourism areas in the province.

“But how do we add a new layer of opportunity that fits with the destination development so that we can leverage what Tourism Vancouver Island is doing, what Destination BC is doing? What we are looking at provincially are remarkable experiences, so that we become part of the family.”