B.C.'s transportation minister says the province's aboriginal tourism operators must learn to live with cuts to the coastal ferry service.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone says the government's plans to cut routes and sailings next month won't change, despite concerns from aboriginal entrepreneurs who say the move will hurt their efforts to develop tourism markets along coastal B.C.
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Stone says ferry service between Port Hardy and Bella Bella on the Central Coast will continue, but aboriginal tourism industry leaders say the previous ferry service to Bella Coola has been downgraded.
BC Ferries will continue to sail the Northern Expedition from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, with a stop at Bella Bella. But at Bella Bella tourists and locals would have to board 16-vehicle barge-like MV Nimpkish for the voyage up the fjord to Bella Coola.
The smaller vessel is currently undergoing a refit to install seats, interior heat and potable water.
The CEO of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C., Keith Henry, says his organization has invested $1.5 million developing coastal tourism programs over the past two years, but he says the cuts have prompted the group to gear down its efforts.
Stone says BC Ferries is launching extra sailings this summer to get tourists to a major aboriginal festival in Bella Bella sponsored by the Heiltsuk Nation.
But Stone adds the original and ongoing mandate of BC Ferries is to ensure travel links for British Columbians, not tourists.
Changes to the Discovery Coast route are going into effect this year.