Comox Valley entrepreneurs share their stories

A video series released by Tourism Vancouver Island includes interviews with a couple of Comox Valley entrepreneurs.

Carolyn and Steve Touhey own the Two Eagles Lodge bed and breakfast in Union Bay.

A video series released by Tourism Vancouver Island includes interviews with a couple of locals who share some thoughts about their journeys to the Comox Valley and about the economic impact of tourism.

Carolyn Touhey of Two Eagles Lodge and Sarah Nicholson of Tourism Mount Washington are among the entrepreneurs who first visited the Island as tourists and wound up settling here as business people.

In a Value of Tourism video, Touhey says “it got prettier every turn we took” when she and husband Steve first discovered the Island in 2004 while in Vancouver for a business trip.

While Islanders may appreciate their own backyard, she suggests they don’t truly understand “how incredible this place is.

“I can walk down and see the seals and sea lions, and yet somebody comes from Germany and they would think they need to be in a zoo to see that kind of thing,” said Touhey, who hails from Maryland in the U.S. “For us, having been bitten by the bug, to then be able to share it, is just very cool.”

During their first trip to the Island, three days of magnificent weather and scenery convinced the Touheys to attach four days onto an Alaskan holiday. Four months later, the couple returned to sign a contract for their 12 acres in Union Bay.

Carolyn later discovered the Provincial Nominee Program, which helps employers attract skilled foreign workers, and selects entrepreneurs ready to invest in the economy and create jobs. Their application was accepted — and by 2007, the couple had opened their bed and breakfast.

A concern of note is escalating ferry fees, which has resulted in a greater number of Europeans and Albertans, and fewer Lower Mainlanders and Victoria residents since the first two years of operation.

“That’s been a huge deterrent,” said Touhey, who would like to see more effective marketing at home. “We’ve got the people on the Island. Why don’t we do something with them?”

Nicholson — the executive director at Tourism Mount Washington — and husband Jeremy were also tourists before becoming Valley residents.

“I’ve traveled a lot in my time,” said the Kenyan-born Nicholson. “I came from the UK, and visited here, and I loved what I saw.”

In the videos, she says the tendency among Island guests is to arrive as a visitor and leave feeling like part of a community.

“Tourism affects everybody, and we probably don’t even realize it in our day-to-day lives,” Nicholson said, noting the snowball effect on restaurants, cafes and hotels. “It’s a complete cycle as to what attracts, and what makes living in the Valley pleasant for residents. It is all part of the tourism industry, and the tourism attractions.

“The fact that we have a mountain on our doorstep, it brings employment opportunities, it brings marketing opportunities to the Island as a sort of magnet to the Island in the winter months. It feeds the Comox Valley community. It actually has an impact on everyone.”

Province-wide, Nicholson notes tourism’s contribution to the GDP and employment through all demographics, including retirees returning to the industry.

Tourism is B.C.’s largest primary resource industry, the videos note. Vancouver Island — which attracts 3.8 million visitors per year — accounts for 17 per cent of the province’s total tourism businesses.

“Vancouver Island has everything that B.C. has to offer, but in a much smaller, accessible environment,” Nicholson said. “Every single resident of Vancouver Island could and should be an ambassador of what we all have and love, and take for granted.”

The videos are part of the Powering Economic Alignment & Growth Through Tourism project spearheaded by Tourism Vancouver Island. For more information, visit valueoftourism.ca.