River runs through tourism, economic development
A new buy-local initiative is asking people to look beyond the river in an interactive campaign that encourages locals to explore the popular sport fishing website that is boosting South Kootenay tourism and business.
Community Futures Greater Trail’s Economic Development Coordinator Ron Perepolkin believes fishing the mighty Columbia has enough global appeal to foster a whole new angler-based tourism sector. In late 2018 he commissioned research that identified fly fishers as a valuable target market when aiming to increase regional tourism, as they travel to fish, stay for 1–3 days, often bring their spouse, and have disposable income. By 2019, Perepolkin launched WeSportFish.com to promote catch and release sport fishing on the Columbia River.
“As an economic development practitioner, I want to grow our economy,” he says. “Promoting the focal point, the river, and the world-class fishing we have here is a way to bring new money into our economy, and it’s working!”
The project’s tagline “come fish with us” changed to “come fish with us when it’s safe to do so” after the pandemic shut down tourism. During that time, Perepolkin continued to build the resource-rich website with a boatload of valuable fishing information, including fishing reports and guides to the best local fishing holes. It’s been successfully luring anglers online and helping raise the region’s profile as a sport fishing mecca.
With travel and other tourism activities now back in action, WeSportFish is focusing on improving awareness locally with the Beyond the River initiative. It aims to grow local knowledge of the sport fishing website, which has already gained tremendous traction, receiving about 14,000 unique visits a month; to put that into perspective, that’s close to twice the population of Trail.
“Most people find us on Google but not very many local people know about us, so this campaign is all about raising awareness with residents and the local business community,” says Perepolkin. “We want them to know the website exists, and that it’s a great tourism resource, so if they have visitors come in and ask what there is to do in the area, we hope they say ‘there are 12 fishing holes on WeSportFish.com – go check it out!’”
BEYOND THE RIVER
The Beyond the River Stick-It! Contest is a multi-prize giveaway that invites people into local businesses to play. Upon visiting a participating business, shoppers will see acrylic displays that feature a unique code word — one for each of the 12 merchants — and the official Beyond the River stickers. Entering the code word at https://wesportfish.com/beyond-the-river-stick-it-contest/ will give them a chance to win a gift card from that merchant. To enter for the grand prize, participants must either submit a photo of where they stuck a Beyond the River sticker or share their recommendations for fun ways for visitors to spend time in the area.
The grand prize is a great catch, consisting of gift cards from all 12 participating businesses, a golf package from Redstone Resort, tickets to a Trail Smoke Eaters’ hockey game, movie passes from the Royal Theatre, a made-in-the-South-Kootenay Rod Sprocket, and more.
The Community Futures initiative, which runs until May 15th, is supported by project partner Trail & District Chamber of Commerce, promotional sponsors Bounce Radio and Lonesheep Publishing, and funded by the Economic Trust of Southern Interior BC (ETSI-BC).
“We are thrilled to be a campaign partner and sponsor in this shop-local contest that is building up sport fishing in the region,” says Trail & District Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Erika Krest. “Ron at Community Futures is a driving force behind economic development in our area, and the Chamber values his efforts in elevating the tourism sector. It’s a priority we also share, with the Chamber launching the Tourism Committee last year and working toward completing phase one of the South Kootenay Tourism Management Plan by the end of this month.”
WeSportFish hopes to use the best collected images and recommendations for tourists on their website and social media channels to further promote the region as a prime destination for fishing and more. Raising local awareness of the online resource and the valuable river asset is only the first step for Perepolkin, who would like to see a central tourism hub established for all related South Kootenay organizations.
“We don’t have anything that promotes and connects tourism in our area. Locally, there’s Destination Castlegar, Tourism Rossland, and Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism, but what does the South Kootenay have? WeSportFish.com is one of the only places that tourists find when seeking recreation in our area. We can get people to come — and they are already coming from around the world to fish here — but after a great day fishing, they also want to know what there is to do beyond the river. Our goal is to let them know!”
Chamber Stories is a monthly feature that informs the business community on available resources, encourages businesses to take advantage of Chamber member benefits, and celebrates the diversity of South Kootenay enterprise. Visit www.trailchamber.bc.ca for more Chamber Stories.