The only thing the George Hotel may need in order to wipe out the small town feel of Lower Gibsons is a sign. It could be a sign saying “Ramada Inn,” “Days Inn,” or “Westin.” Despite the potential economic benefits to the Sunshine Coast, the George could change the character of Gibsons. The funky seaside village would plunge into the slippery slope of branding. Imagine the Black Bean replaced by a Krispy Kreme and Smitty’s becoming Red Robin. Tacky tourists would love it.

Art Phillips, planning consultant for the George Hotel, told Gibsons council earlier this month that the hotel’s 118 rooms would reach 82 per cent occupancy in three to five years. Last week, readers of the Coast Reporter in letters to the editor scoffed at that prediction. But an occupancy rate of 82 percent is entirely possible, if the hotel were to become a Holiday Inn, a Sheraton, or any of the 15 largest hotel groups in Canada. Worldwide reservation systems, unavailable to one-off hotels, are sure to fill most vacancies in the charming town of Gibsons.

But would it still be charming with a giant “Comfort Inn” or ”Travelodge” sign brightening the skies? Any of you who have travelled to the historic protected areas of old Puerta Vallarta, La Rochelle in France, or even Key West, Florida, would not have seen such signs. Although a hotel sign probably wouldn’t create much light pollution, it would surely rank as mind pollution to some potential visitors. Visitors to a branded George Hotel would be viewing the first step in the eradication of Gibsons’ quaint, small-town ambiance. And it wouldn’t be the last. Once a precedent is set, there’s no holding back other property developers who want to mash the town’s bylaws into putty. A Walmart on the harbour could be next.

On the same date Phillips was talking to council, Klaus Fuerniss, whose company Klaus Fuerniss Enterprises is developing the hotel, spoke to the Gibsons Chamber of Commerce. When asked about branding, he quickly said he wasn’t considering it and moved on to another topic. He suggested his main goals were to be a good local citizen and to help the area’s economy. However, his description of the hotel’s convention facilities and its “executive” rooms—which would be larger than many family homes in Gibsons—aligned with the standards large hotel brands demand of their member hotels. As is often the case in new hotel construction, developers research the standards needed to become part of a brand. They then adjust their development plans accordingly.

That’s all and good in a city like Vancouver, which was ranked by MasterCard this year as the 5th most attractive destination for international travellers. Vancouver is a mix of tall, shiny buildings; expanses of green space; cultural hotspots; and long-standing neighbourhoods. Besides visiting Robson Street, Stanley Park, and Granville Island, visitors often wander into Vancouver’s distinctively cultural areas of Granville Island, Gastown, Chinatown, and the Drive. But Gibsons doesn’t have much to attract visitors other than its one prominent cultural area: the Lower Gibsons waterfront. Unfortunately, a branded hotel would be the beginning of its end.

Nonetheless, there would undoubtedly be economic benefits from the George. There would be construction jobs during the construction phase and hospitality jobs when the guests arrive. Nearby shops would see tourist dollars as well. But to keep the tourists coming, the established look of Lower Gibsons should remain untarnished by modern brands. A new hotel wouldn’t necessarily stain it because it could be constructed to match the general appearance of the town. But the brand name of a hotel would destroy the traditional image in an instant.

Gibsons council should take heed. They could approve the hotel and place a covenant on the property stating that any signage must not be associated with a national or international conglomerate. The brands don’t allow a hotel without their sign, so that would be the end of the matter. Klaus Fuerniss shouldn’t blink at that. After all, he said his intention was not to brand the hotel.