“The little Nimpkish ferry, the little 16-car ferry which now serves Bella Bella to Bella Coola, is getting the job done. … To those who criticize the decisions that were made and those who say that the Nimpkish will not work and that the Nimpkish will not enable this to be a good tourism product, if my wife and I can take three little girls on this ferry and enjoy the journey and survive, anybody can.” Transportation Minister Todd Stone, BC Legislature, October 9th, 2014
With his recent statement in the legislature, Transportation Minister Stone demonstrates clearly he has no grasp on the issues involved. He may have “survived” his Nimpkish voyage, and fortunately for him and his family there was unusually good weather this summer, but today there are many regional business owners wondering whether they will be so lucky.
Use of the Nimpkish on the Discovery Coast route has created several major problems, starting with capacity. During the 2013 summer season the 115-vehicle Queen of Chilliwack carried approximately 1,700 vehicles between Bella Coola and Port Hardy. During the summer of 2014 however, the Nimpkish could only provide a total capacity of 720 vehicles. If we deduct a modest 15% to accommodate local traffic, a mere 612 vehicles could be accommodated for the voyage between Bella Coola and Port Hardy.
This means the Nimpkish can carry a maximum of 36% of the actual traffic that travelled the route in past summers, and provides zero room for future growth. Ask any business owner in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast or northern Vancouver Island whether slashing the potential customer base by 64% is a good idea.
And that’s before we begin to talk about the poor quality of on-board service – which is the second major problem. The Nimpkish is considered inadequate by the major international tour operators. Jonview Canada, Canada’s largest international tour wholesaler, which sends approximately 100,000 tourists to BC every year and has called the Discovery Coast route a “cornerstone” for future tourism growth in the province, has stated unequivocally that the Nimpkish “is not sufficient to satisfy even a minimum standard of service, convenience and quality for international guests visiting Canada,” and they will no longer recommend the route to their international clients.
The key German market feels likewise. A consortium of six of the largest German tour operators who specialize in travel to British Columbia said, “the Nimpkish as a replacement for the Queen of Chilliwack is unacceptable from a tourism perspective” in a letter to Minister Todd Stone.
“How Minister Stone can call this ‘a good tourism product’ is beyond me”, said Petrus Rykes, Chair of Save The Discovery Coast Ferry. “Our European market has dried up this year, and it’s only going to get worse once those who actually braved the trip get home to tell their friends and post on TripAdvisor. We hardly heard any positive comments all summer. People just shook their heads in disbelief.”
Surveys conducted by the region’s tourism associations gave the Nimpkish an abysmal review. Passengers who commented on their dissatisfaction called the service “distressing”, “outrageous”, and “a joke”.
The mandate of government is to facilitate commerce and ensure economic growth. The Discovery Coast’s Nimpkish service does not fulfil that mandate, and is in fact restricting commerce and weakening the region’s economy. For Minister Stone to make statements so clearly contrary to reality is extremely unhelpful in finding a solution to this critical issue.