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Cultural Centre learning to forecast

Five months after officially opening their doors, the SLCC sees ‘encouraging’ visitor numbers

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The Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), an impressive new building poised at the corner of Lorimer Road and Blackcomb Way, first opened its doors to the public in mid-July. Since then, it’s played host to visitors from far and wide — tour groups and individuals alike — and hosted some big corporate events.

Deanna Bell, sales manager for the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre, said so far business is going well and visitor numbers are “encouraging,” though she admits that the numbers aren’t quite as concrete as they would like, because they don’t include tour groups. They’ve only been tracking visitors from ticket sales.

“We’re just now opening the sales in for the contracted tour groups,” she said. “…So it’s not 100 per cent accurate.”

During the summer months, they weren’t drawing as much foot traffic as they had anticipated in their business plan. Their busiest day was in August, with about 200 people through the doors, plus those with the scheduled tour groups.

“The summer was great, because we did have those contracted tour groups, so we had regular scheduled bus tours. But because we were brand new, we were still updating our signage in the village and we needed new brochures and we had sort of old advertising.

“The challenge for us is getting that number every day,” Bell said.

Since this is the first year in operation, Bell said one of their challenges has been learning to forecast — anticipating which days will be busy, and scheduling staff accordingly. She points out that they didn’t even really get to see what a full summer season would be like, as they opened in mid-July.

“We haven’t had a full year to be able to look back and go, ‘Hey, this is where the majority of our business is coming from and this is what summer looks like versus the winter’ because they’re two different markets,” she said. “Winter tends to be more long-haul visitors coming from the UK or Germany or international travelers.”

Before the grand opening of the SLCC on July 10, they had a soft opening on National Aboriginal Day (June 25), and were actually taking contracted tour groups through the facility as early as May, long before the facility was fully complete.

Even now, almost six months after the opening of the centre, contractors are still working on completing the replicas of the tradition long house and istken that are located out back. Both buildings are scheduled to be complete in February, at which point they will be used for arts and crafts programming. The entire back area, including the forest walk, will be ready for the summer tour market.

Since opening, the centre has hosted about 25 events in the indoor istken hall and great hall, everything from corporate dinners and receptions to weddings.

Event sales have been going strong, and they have even seen serious inquiries from two major Olympic players, a country looking for a satellite office, and an Olympic sponsor, though Bell couldn’t specify the groups because they are still in negotiations.

“We have had a couple strong inquiries that we are pursuing right now, and we have done many interviews and meetings with various groups like Jet Set Sports, RMOW, Tourism Whistler, Whistler Chamber and VANOC,” she said. “…We’ve had meeting with these groups just to learn about the Olympics in general and our venue and what we should charge and how we should approach.”

A few months ago, the SLCC launched a locals’ enrollment program, which means that any B.C. resident who visits the centre and pays the $18 adult admission can return as often as they like, for free, for a one-year period. They also can bring guests at a 15 per cent discounted rate, and will receive 10 per cent off in the gift shop. So far, about 100 people have signed up.

Recently, they’ve begun reaching out to the local community, holding a family craft day, and hosting the Winter Farmers Market every Sunday in the Istken area until Dec. 21.

“We’ve had up to 400 people on Sundays, between 200 and 400 people are getting in,” she said. Many of those visitors will go upstairs, as well, to check out the rest of the centre and exhibits.

“It definitely has helped us in selling the annual locals’ pass,” she added.

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