No other tourism venture has taken our town to such soaring heights as the Sea to Sky Gondola. It has brought generous and positive press attention to Squamish, and has emboldened locals to think of themselves as a tourism destination and not just a pit stop on the way to Whistler. Gagandeep Ghuman spoke to Trevor Dunn about the public response to the gondola.
How have these two months been for the Gondola?
It’s been a great start and we are very happy. It’s a wonderful way to start off in a business, especially in Squamish. I think it’s a start of a whole bunch of great things for the community.
How many people have been up there?
We are not releasing the numbers to the public but we have had way more visitors than we anticipated. We had forecasted anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 people in the first year and we are on track to achieve that. It’s something that we were ready for, but it’s always nice to have that success early on.
How has the gondola contributed to the local economy ?
We have 130 people working, we are a large employer and we are excited about that. As we get busier over the years, we would be adding to that number. Anecdotally, people have told me that hotels are busier, and downtown businesses are doing better this year. There have also been a number of realtors that have phoned us and thanked us and said there are people interested in real estate that hadn’t been previously and they are crediting the gondola for some of that change.
Do you think Gondola can make Squamish a tourism destination?
We have people from all over the world coming here and they are staying overnight. I am always riding the gondola with people who are staying in Squamish because of gondola being their destination now.
I have had people ask me what town is this that we can see from the gondola and I tell them it’s Squamish and they say really, is Squamish on the ocean. That’s a surprise to a lot of people as they are used to seeing Squamish with a corner that is a McDonald’s intersection. Many people don’t realise it’s right on the water.
What kind of visitors are you getting?
The only visitor profile is that there isn’t a profile. It’s exceptionally diverse bunch, we had ten people on wheelchairs up the other day, we are getting selection of seniors, we have a lot of different ethnicities that are coming up the corridor for the first time which is pretty exciting for us. From the young to old, to the very mobile, people that are venturing out, it’s really a great mix.
Have you done any surveys?
We do surveys regularly and we have a large percentage of people coming here from around the world, Africa, Europe, Asia, South America.
You have talked about doing packages to downtown?
We are running a shuttle bus to the adventure centre and we would like to extend it to downtown eventually. We also have a marketing team that goes downtown and provides the $2 coupons that they can use as a talking point with the guest. Our retails shops are purchasing food items from the downtown vendors. We will also have the Tourism Squamish team that will be at the gondola to promote downtown activities.
Any plans to improve the food at the restaurant?
We have got a fantastic food and beverage team and when you open a business, it takes a while to get some of the systems right. We are working hard to make sure that the food is of the same quality as the experience. We will keep working on that, we have made changes to the menu and the changes to the way that the food is actually prepped and then presented. We are confident we will get to the point where we will be able to exceed those expectations.
Are you also working on a cycling path?
Squamish has a fantastic valley trail and we are keen to be a part of that. We are working with BC Parks to create an extension of that trail that is bike-able to the base of the gondola. It’s the gondola that will provide a connection to the Stawamus chief provincial park by a trail that can accommodate bikes.
What is your position on Woodfibre LNG ?
Well, it’s outlined in the letter we have sent to the EAO. We are active in the process of the environmental assessment and we wanted to put in our perspective in the letter and we feel like we have done that.
We have outlined steps that we think should be considered as part of the process related to visual impact, we feel there is an opportunity for the government to listen to that feedback.
There was an accident here, what are some of the challenges associated with backcountry access?
People have been climbing in the area for 100 years, and they started on trails and logging roads and the gondola is now just a new way for them to access the area. We are very cognizant of the risk associated with backcountry travel and we highlight those risk and we have signs that clearly mark that we are entering the backcountry.
We want to make sure that people understand that travel with a guide is always recommended and there are risks and it can be treacherous.
Any plans for expansion?
We continue to work on the experience we are providing on the top. We are working on what we call wonderland lake trail and it will be nice and easy for families to get on.