TOTA EXCITED ABOUT COMPREHENSIVE 10-YEAR TOURISM STRATEGY AIMED AT BRINGING TRAVELLERS TO SOUTH OKANAGAN YEAR-ROUND
Posted on 27 June 2012 by Keith Lacey
It’s going to take a concerted effort by all tourism industry stakeholders and a new commitment to working together to promote the Thompson-Okanagan region as a world-class destination that should be attracting visitors year-round, instead of just the peak tourist season from June to September, says the chief executive officer of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA).
“The diversity of this region is spectacular … it’s simply incredible what we have to offer the world,” said Glenn Mandziuk, who gave a keynote presentation to wrap up the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Conference (PNEDC) last Wednesday at the Watermark Hotel and Resort.
While the tourism industry in the Thompson-Okanagan remains incredibly healthy, as it generates almost $1.8 billion a year and is the largest employer with more than 15,000 jobs, the reality is more than 80 per cent of revenue is generated between the summer months of June, July and August, said Mandziuk.
To try and change this longstanding reality, TOTA is embarking on a new 10-year regional tourism strategy starting this summer, said Mandziuk.
“This regional strategy for tourism will be the first time it has ever been done at this extent in the province’s history,” he said.
TOTA is ready to release a 45-page document called Embracing Our Potential: How Do We cCeate an Exceptional Visitor Experience?, which Mandziuk discussed in detail during his presentation at the PNEDC.
The Thompson Okanagan remains one of the leading tourism destinations in the world as the region is attracting more than 3.5 million visitors per year and generating over $1.7 billion in revenue to the regional economy.
As impressive as these statistics are, the reality is 80 per cent of this revenue arrives in June, July and August and TOTA believes that has to and can change with a concerted effort by all stakeholders to work together and create “iconic visitor experiences” that will bring people to the region 12 months a year, said Mandziuk.
“Imagine creating an environment that inspires travellers to visit the region every month of the year?” he asked. “The economic impact would be staggering. “The Thompson Okanagan regional tourism strategy is a 10-year plan that will lead us to be a successful year-round destination that creates jobs, supports community development and advances sustainability in regards to our economic, social and environmental well-being.”
Over the past several months, Mandziuk said he has met with hundreds of stakeholders to discuss and gather input that has been used to formulate the regional tourism strategy over the next decade.
“Embracing Our Potential is an industry-led strategy that demonstrates through partnerships and integration, where we can create exceptional visitor experiences that will expand our region’s tourist success beyond the two-month summer peak season,” he said. “Key objectives within this strategy are to encourage partnerships within each tourism sector, embracing growth in a non-competitive approach where all markets appreciate the benefits of uniting their resources towards the target of year-round sustainability.”
International travellers are looking for unique experiences when they visit this region, he said.
“Our issue is not more investment and more businesses, but how do we get people together to create experiences they won’t forget,” he said.
New Zealand has become one of the most successful tourist destinations in the world because all tourism stakeholders in that country have successfully incorporated a philosophy to work together to promote each other in a spirit of co-operation and mutual success, said Mandziuk.
“We have to figure out what is going to differentiate us from anywhere else in the world,” he said. “We have done surveys and almost everyone talks about summer, sun and fun in the Okanagan. That’s why we are getting 80 per cent of our visitors in three months.
“We’re so much more than that and have so much more to offer than summer, sun and fun, although that’s always going to be a huge attraction.”
This region has endless opportunities to promote its First Nations cultural history and endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, cultural explorers and those looking for authentic food and wine experiences, said Mandziuk.
“There’s no reason we can’t become the Tuscany of North America with the food and wine opportunities we have available here,” he said. “Our vision is to become a highly successful year-round destination … where we will become a destination for travellers around the world.
“As a region, we’ve done a very poor job of telling our stories … but these stories create an emotional connection to a destination and this is something we must work on.”
The Thompson Okanagan region has distinctive landscapes that range from desert and arid grasslands to abundant valleys, lakes, forested highlands and alpine meadows and the best climate in the country that is highly conducive to year-round tourism, he said.
Once people come here, they will return, he said. The opportunities to promote cultural heritage, wine and culinary tourism to nature-based adventure, aboriginal cultural tourism, arts and cultural festivals and golf and water-based recreational opportunities are endless, he said.
“Tourism plays a significant role in both urban and rural economies,” he said. “The recognition of this significance and its potential for further growth underlie the efforts that have gone into developmening this regional strategy.”