From left to right: Wei Wai Kum Chief Councillor Bob Pollard, Councillor Chris Roberts, Thunderbird RV Park & Resort Manager Sandra Malone, and Band Manager Angie Sarsons. Photo by Coast Funds.
Just weeks after an in-depth profile in the Sept. 8 edition of the Campbell River Mirror, Thunderbird RV Park and Resort has appeared on the cover of the fall edition of the Talking Stick, a quarterly publication of Coast Funds. The following is re-printed with permission from Coast Funds, which invested in Thunderbird as part of Coast’s mandate to support sustainable economic development projects in First Nations communities in the central and north coast of B.C. The longer, online profile is linked from our website.
Wei Wai Kum Nation Powers Up its Tourism Business
Wei Wai Kum First Nation is serving up a powerful example of how First Nations are investing in tourism businesses to significantly expand capacity, creating year-round employment, increased revenue, and provide new training opportunities for their people.
Thunderbird RV Park is a community-owned, on-reserve business that has been profitably operated by Wei Wai Kum Nation at its picturesque seaside location in Campbell River for more than 30 years. Offering RV and camp sites and hosting extremely popular events like an annual fishing derby capped by a family barbecue complete with traditional dance and drumming by Wei Wai Kum performers, Thunderbird RV Park has a dedicated clientele—about 80 per cent of whom return year after year.
But Wei Wai Kum leaders perceived strong signals—like having to turn away up to 30 RVs a day during high season, increasing inquiries about cottages, and comparatively low camping site revenue—that there was room for change. For Chief Councillor Bob Pollard, “The question became: Can Thunderbird do more for us?”
After strategically analyzing the business, group brainstorming, and thorough business planning, the Nation decided upon an economic development initiative to invest in with Coast Funds: It constructed four new cottages along the Campbell River estuary, all sited for premium views, plus 18 new fully serviced RV sites. Onsite laundry and accessible shower facilities, power upgrades, and new landscaping also enhanced the Park. Wei Wai Kum carvers created art pieces designating each new cottage.
Results have already exceeded expectations. New RV sites have been snapped up by long-term clients. The luxurious cottages are about 95 per cent booked in the high season, solidly booked over Christmas, and were more than 50 percent booked in their first shoulder season. “We were targeting July and August, but it turns out people are willing to rent cottages year-round,” marvels Pollard. Equally impressive, Thunderbird RV Park & Resort (as it’s now called) created 12 new year-round jobs, which are mostly held by Wei Wai Kum members—and more during the summer.
Pollard offers high praise for the creativity of Council members, Wei Wai Kum staff, and the Park’s hardworking, customer service-oriented management. Much wisdom was gained during the making of this success story—about moving up the tourism value chain, teamwork, and deciding whether a solid existing business should be left to “coast” or be strategically developed to really take off. Wei Wai Kum leaders are happy to share this wisdom—and are doing just that in their new in-depth story, available online.