I look at development through a community-first mindset. By making our communities better and more inviting, more visitors will naturally be attracted to come for a visit.” – Paul Kamon, Executive Director, Sunshine Coast Tourism
Paul Kamon and his friends have a friendly running rivalry over who has recruited more people to move to Powell River.
“We claim people that make the move here. And I claim six.”
It’s hardly a surprise to expect that Paul, the Executive Director of Sunshine Coast Tourism, based in Powell River, is a vocal advocate for his adopted home. Since leaving Vancouver with his family, in 2011, he has watched different waves of creative, young urbanites leave their cities and set up homes (and in many cases shops, bakeries and cafes) in what was once the brunt of industrial mill town jokes.
“Powell River’s reputation as a ‘stinky old mill town’ has faded,” says Paul. “As the trend of people leaving the big cities for smaller and more affordable communities gains momentum, and with COVID-19 also having accelerated the trend, the Sunshine Coast’s time has come. We are seeing this not only with a strong growth in tourism, but also with an accompanying real estate boom that is bringing more residents to the coast and attracting more investment and development. I feel fortunate to be here at a moment where I can help shepherd and drive the rising growth in rural communities toward positive outcomes, such as infrastructure investments that make our communities more livable for our residents but also attractive places for tourists to visit and experience.”
Since first entering the tourism industry in 2001, working as Sales and Marketing Assistant for a Canadian adventure company operating in Belize, Paul has witnessed the effects of three different crises – including 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID pandemic – on the tourism sector.
“Each crisis has had different kinds of impacts,” says Paul. “But COVID had decimated much of our international tourism markets. The Sunshine Coast is less reliant on international tourism, and being mostly a regional BC destination, has done fairly well during the pandemic with some operators reporting their best season ever as the surge of BC only travelers continued well into the fall shoulder season in 2020.”
Selling the City
The exercise to rebrand Powell River as the ‘Next Adventure Town’ has been unfolding for several years now. Recognizing the potential for the community to diversify its economy and align with the Province’s tourism aspirations has manifested through various large-scale investments from local government, Regional Districts and even Island Coastal Economic Trust.
“I look at development through a community-first mindset,” says Paul. “How can we make it better for the people who already live here? Just by making our communities better and more inviting, more visitors will naturally be attracted to come for a visit.”
On Paul’s wish-list to further drive tourism on the Sunshine Coast, Paul would like to see more improvements in active and sustainable transportation options; ones where better linkages are made between neighborhoods and communities, through bike paths, outdoor gathering spaces and improved signage.
“I’d also include more investments in affordable workforce housing to support our industry and workers,” he continues. “This includes using the MRDT (Municipal and Regional District Tax) collected from Online Accommodation Platforms, such as AirBnB, to support local workforce housing initiatives.”
It’s not just Powell River that is ripe for tourism on the Sunshine Coast. Paul sees lots of other hot spots in the region as key growth communities, including Gibsons, Sechelt, Pender Harbour, Egmont, Lund and even Texada Island all showing positive signs of growth including potential new hotel developments and a growing stock of short-term rental properties.
“We ranked third, behind Whistler, in the Air DNA vacation rental stats,” says Paul. “This shows how a majority of communities in the Sunshine Coast district are developing in pockets, quite rapidly.”
Moving forward, Paul remains excited by his job and feels privileged to play an active role in advancing both a positive vision – and reality – on the ground.
“While it can be very stressful to manage expectations among many different stakeholders across our diverse region, it is also a very rewarding position,” says Paul. “I get to see tangibles, like grant funds, signage, bike lanes… materialize in the real world and this is giving people hope of a resurgence and retooling of our economy.”
And by “retooling” the economy, Paul means developing land-use strategies and building out community public spaces. But in a less overt way, he’s also talking about filling other important gaps in the market. This includes helping ensure there’s “legit sourdough, pain au chocolat and croissant” available in Powell River.
And yes, it just so happens the owner of this particular bakery is proudly claimed as one of Paul’s six urban recruits.
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