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Tofino's model for community success: "A rising tide floats all boats"

Mar 26, 2018

“When I retire, I want to retire to Gibsons!” declared Tofino’s powerhouse Mayor Josie Osborne when she stepped to the podium at the Gibsons Chamber’s AGM on March 16. “I can’t believe how similar Gibsons is to Tofino – how we are grappling with the same challenges that come with success, and how we all live in a town that feels like a town” instead of a suburb of a larger city. She added, “you don’t go to Tofino by accident – it’s a purposeful choice to travel there, just like with Gibsons.”


Both communities, she noted, are “grappling with the problems that come with success:” parking, business turnover, staffing for restaurants. Both are increasingly popular tourist destinations since the turn of the 20th century, with Tofino leading the charge.

Three major actions brought the tiny (population just over 2,500) community to the world’s attention: creation of Pacific Rim National Park in 1971; the Meares Island logging blockades in 1983 and the Clayoquot protests a decade later.

Growth crept along, she noted, and was largely due to the vision from individual entrepreneurs who saw the potential and built the first of the resorts that now dot the area – Wickinninnish Inn being among the first and spurred further growth with its success. Then, “we asked the world to come, and they came!”


Interestingly, it was only recently that Tofino residents elected a Council that recognized the reality – and the potential – of the community’s tourism-driven economy. Mayor Osborne noted that “there was a lot of tension during the transition” from a primary-industry based economy, with vocal opposition to tourism from the forestry and fishery workers. However, there is no arguing with the numbers: this town of 2,000 hosts 500 businesses (75% of which are Chamber members.) These businesses support a young demographic drawn to Tofino’s accessible outdoor lifestyle, with a median age of 34, with singles or couples (66%) outnumbering families (33%).


In the past decade, this younger, forward-thinking community has demonstrated the truth of Mayor Osborne’s mantra: “a rising tide floats all boats.” That is, when one business or sector succeeds, that success spreads positive results to neighbouring businesses and sectors within the community. Tofino’s Chamber of Commerce has grown, with the tourism sector’s success, into “a very professional, functional organization” with an annual budget of $1.2 million.


Mayor Osborne recognizes that “we are marketing to our future residents,” and to do so effectively “we need to look at our visitors, ask them why they are coming, see what they are purchasing, how much they are spending.” She notes that “we can’t be all things to all people, so it’s important to know who we are and why people are coming here. And to recognize that we are first and foremost a place where people live, work, and raise their families. We are a town with tourism, but we are not a tourist town.”

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