The Geography of Kamloops: Tourism and auto-short-selling.

 

Kamloops adopted the branding of “Tournament Capitol of Canada” in 2001 in a conscious diversification of its job opportunities. Previously Kamloops had been perceived as a largely blue collar town with the majority of its workforce employed by local Pulp & Paper and logging industries. In addition there is a strong government presence in Kamloops. In combination with University College of the Caribou being awarded University Status, Education and Tourism have come to be the largest employers in Kamloops. (Kamloops Engineering Department, 2005). $50 million dollars have been invested in the last decade to provide all the facilities for this move into sport tourism, including the Tournament Capital Center, Rayleigh Slo-Pitch Park and airport expansion. (Kamloops.com, 2006) All this has served to attract sport participants and spectators from all over the province, and often beyond. Nearby Sun Peaks has exploded into a real contender in North American Ski Resorts, the second largest in the province (Sun Peaks Resort Corporation, 2010/2011). However in the recession the miss-steps have been exposed and the flaws are preventing Kamloops from moving on. Despite being a fantastic location for retiring baby boomers from Alberta and the Lower Mainland to consider, the population is staying relatively stagnant. (Kamloops This Week, 2011) Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton on the other hand are experiencing growth. This is curious considering Kamloops’ superior transportation corridors, more reasonable housing prices and far better public transit and civic planning (Murray, 2010). Kamloops however has fallen in love with the same demons which are crippling many other parts of the world, a dependency on foreign everything. Our downtown buildings are built with Chinese steel, furnished with Korean appliances, in modern-international building styles, ignoring the surrounding topography, with a huge dependency on oil to maintain the infrastructure[1]. It is the argument of the author that Kamloops is endangering its future viability in this current course of action, but more importantly is missing immediate opportunities for growth, stability and large economic profits from Tourism.

Kamloops is surrounded by large granitic batholiths (Wheeler, 2001), uprisings of extremely hard rock which is likely the most valuable currently on the market. The nature of the high price demanded for granitic is precipitated party from is small supply, but also for the characteristics that it posses. It is much harder than concrete, much stronger, and can be cut thinner than practically any other rock on the planet, hence its attractive qualities for counter tops (Foster, 2001). Strangely all granite counter tops in Kamloops originate far afield[2]. In addition, granite presents amazing opportunities as a building material.  Many buildings in Europe have been constructed of granite, using no mortar or other support structure, and still stand 4 or 5 stories above the ground as useful buildings centuries and even a millennia later (Hibbert, 1969) (Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere, 1993). In contrast, many of our civic concrete buildings are nearing the end of their functional lives, as the rebar used to reinforce the concrete has been discovered as acidic, and it eats the concrete from inside, destabilizing the structure (Crary, 2009). This could provide an excellent opportunity for skilled job creation in Kamloops.[3]

Many Kamloopsians and rural British Columbians have been living in limbo for more than 15 years as the lumber industry is stressed by a reduction in demand for new homes, as well as cheaper alternatives being presented to the export market by offshore companies. Even we fail to support the local lumber industry as our furnishings and civic buildings are constructed with foreign materials. We acknowledge the lower costs to the balance sheet; however we seem to overlook the job destruction in our own communities that such decisions create (Ruppel, 2009). While large urban areas can provide well paying service industry and white collar jobs, small cities the scale of Kamloops will never attract large employers in this sector (Levine, 2006). This is a tic-tak-toe moment, in the loose words of philosopher Hardin, who equates the child’s competition with economic game theory; if I do it first, no matter the externality to society I will be better off (Parkin & Bade, 2010) (Hardin, 1969). If we do not support our own lumber industry, why should we expect foreigners too?

We suffer the same when it comes to international students, who are essentially tourists to our communities, as are the large number of rural British Columbia students that TRU attracts. However on campus, most of the revenue is passed on to large out-of-town companies. Consider; if there was no Tim Horton’s in Old Main[4], would revenues for coffee at that location drop? By adopting the Tim Horton’s franchise we are redirecting hundreds of thousands of franchise fees to Toronto instead of re-investing them here in our own community (Tim Hortons, 2011). Somewhat more ridiculous and less though off is the Campus Activity Center outsourcing of catering and outlets to Aramark. Aramark is a large national company which runs caters Fort MacMurray to Vancouver. Why this unnecessary outsourcing to such a large company when so many of the universities graduates in business, culinary arts, marketing and entrepenurship leave the city for lack of stimulating jobs (Goodwin, 2010). Why could the CAC not employ local chefs to create location specific recipes, why are TRU’s MBA students not capable of managing a large scale catering and outlet operation in Kamloops, why are percentages of the profits generated by this enterprise distributed to shareholders abroad? In the end, the brilliant, educated, creative types that Kamloops desperately needs to create a strong diverse community leave for greener pastures in Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto, or whichever country they came from.

Kamloops has also limited the market it which it can attract tourists to sport events. (Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance, 2011) Unfortunately sport events only happen once in a while, and while the economic impact is proven time and again, there is a large opportunity cost to not utilizing these facilities to their full value. While Wal-Mart builds their parking lots for Christmas Eve[5], Kamloops seems to have invested its $50 million dollars in one-off events. Should a city like Prince George or Kelowna just adjust their marketing plans slightly, the “tourist” base will disappear. Sun peaks, as well as the nearby Okanagan cities all generate much larger tourist bases from America, Asia and Europe. So does Vancouver, Banff, Jasper and even Clearwater. Kamloops sees little if any economic input from all these important nearby tourism meccas. In fact, these places are also short selling themselves to a large market– the self directed vacationer, not interested in 5 hour drives. The success of the Rocky Mountaineer is testament to the tendency to avoid driving by European tourists, however this tour leaves little room for self-direction. TOTA[6] would do well to campaign for a rail link to the Lower Mainland, which would instantly create a competitive advantage to this tourist demographic over every other tourist region in Western North America, from Yosemite to Sonoma to Banff national park (Calthorpe & Fulton, 2001). The federal government is investing billions in twining the highway from Alberta to Kamloops, which can only aid in regional traffic passing Kamloops quicker. This highway is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $22 million per mile. (Burchell, Downs, McCann, & Mukherji, 2005) From scratch high speed trains can be installed instead at a competitive $25-75 million per mile depending upon external features. (Freemark, 2010) An outlier, Austin Texas is has installed light rail at only $1 million per mile. I believe that Lower Mainland/Okanagan rail transit could be achieved at the lower end of this spectrum as defunct rail right of ways still exist through much of the Okanagan including into the centers of Kamloops and Kelowna, abating the need for acquiring land. In fact many of the previous rail tracks still lie in the ground. The rail rights of ways also are still active between Vancouver and Kamloops, also abating the need for much land acquirement for a high speed corridor. Canadian company Bombardier has manufactured intercity trains for the Swiss capable of 180km/h on old rail tracks, requiring near no upgrading. (Bombardier, 2011). While roads are infrastructure provided by public funds, all profits are made by car companies and oil companies who provide the private person with the means to use this form of transportation (Monel, 2010). Conversely trains provide more employment than manufacturing. (Freemark, A Vibrant US Train Industry Would Employ More People Than Car Makers Do Now, 2010) Beyond all this, car travel generates three times the external costs of trains for the public sector than roads do. (Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies; International Union of Railway, 2011) No public road has ever paid for itself; even most tolled roads do not. (Bradford, 2009)

This breakdown of Train vs. Road investment has so far centered on the local residents and economic viability, but with oil hovering at $90, even in a recession, who knows what’s around the corner. (Kunstler, Forecast 2011, 2011) Added to the concerns is the amount of oil left, as even Husky in Alberta has failed to meet targets for three years. (Ebner, 2010) Included in this speculation is whether we will even be able to access the remaining oil in plentiful fields such as Alberta, Saudi Arabia and the recently discovered Leviathan oil field off Israel. (Deffeyes, 2004) (Brooks, 2010) In an unstable middle east, Americas greatest ally Egypt is toppling, changing the balance of power away from our largest trading partner, which is still dragging our economy down when there are few problems financially domestically. (Economist, 2010) With all this adversity facing us, it seems nonsensical to build roads over rails.

This document is intended to primarily address the concerns of the tourist however. While the economic viability of our region is a pre condition to tourism, we are currently serving only a very narrow portion of our demographic. Instead of focusing on different age groups, regions, incomes, nationalities—let’s focus on the personalities of our tourists. I have already acknowledged that many tourists, particularly from Europe would prefer to stay away from the restrictions and hassles of automobiles, as well as tours. Honestly the Greyhound is not a suitable form of transit for these clients. Now I will address the types of tourists that fall between psycocentric and allocentric. In perhaps the first exhaustive study of how tourists interact with their environment, ‘City Spaces, Urban Places’ identifies Explorers, Browsers and Samplers. Currently we only limitedly cater to Samplers, in that our travelers are directed from place to place to see the “sights” and interact with nothing in between. We do also appeal to the most adventurous of the Explorer category; however, an automobile is required for such cavalier adventures (Urban Land Institute, 2006). Essentially we are missing 66% of the demographic, simply because our civic centers are not designed in a legible way to keep browsers and explorers interested, but further, do not provide the infrastructure for them to do so (Hayllar, Griffin, & Edwards, 2008). This not only deters large numbers of tourists from visiting but does not encourage return trips. Just ask any international student why they have no plans to ever return to Kamloops after university, let alone seek employment here.

Ultimately, direct relationships between the identity of a place and its identifiable character have determined it’s attraction as a tourist destination. (Spirou, 2008) (Stewart, 2009) Clearly Kamloops and the rest of the TOTA district is missing the ball on this one. By building from local materials, serving local food, energizing the local economy, attracting diverse international students to citizenship and providing the infrastructure to explore the region—we will enrich the tourist experience, bolster and strengthen the local economy while diminishing our environmental impact. If regions like ours do not start taking the lead, there may not be munch tourist dollar left in a few decades. Now is the time to act, there is so much opportunity. Let’s empower ourselves and then share our success with the world, as our branding encourages us to do. Kamloops must be more than facilities to stay viable.


[1] Not the focus of the proposal, but the dependency is clear, between water being pumped uphill to Aberdeen, to the necessity for single occupant car travel in many areas of the city.

[2] No source, simply there is no Granite mining operations in Kamloops.

[3] Similarly the Red Bridge connecting downtown with the Indian Reserve is also in need of replacement. London’s granite Southwark Bridge has stood without renovation for 450 years. (Hibbert, 1969)

[4] Plus a rumored second location in the new Library.

[5] Leaving so much empty parking the rest of the year they actually encourage free camping the rest of the year.

[6] Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association

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