Communities throughout the Thompson Okanagan are at a critical juncture in terms of their economic future said Chief Executive Officer of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), Glenn Mandziuk, as he explained the new 10-year Regional Tourism Strategy to a small group of representative stakeholders including, the District of Barriere, Barriere and District Chamber of Commerce, and the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo Association, on May 24, at the chamber office.
“No region in B.C. has grown at a faster rate; the employment industry in tourism is greater than mining…. This is an exciting time for the Region,” said Mandziuk, “We’ve never had a Regional Strategy for Tourism in the history of B.C.”
He noted that tourism has now become a primary economic driver throughout the Thompson Okanagan Region. In 2010 the industry generated over $1.7 billion for the Regional economy; representing 13 per cent of the total provincial revenue; with growth in room revenue over the past 10 years outpacing the provincial average.
“The perception of the Region right now is ‘summer, sun, and fun’,” stated Mandziuk, “We have been a very seasonal Region, where 80 per cent of revenue is generated in just three months. But we’re much more than that.”
He explained the new stategy is about promoting a common vision, that defines ways in which businesses and communities can work together on strategic regional objectives.
“This will only succeed if we continue to exchange information and work together in partnership for the benefit of our communities,” said Mandziuk, “No matter how well Barriere does, if your neighbouring communities are not doing the same it hurts the strategy for Barriere. Competition is not your neighbour, it’s in New Zealand, and other popular destinations. We want people to be motivated to fly here on their ‘bucket list’, instead of other places in the world.”
He noted that research and consultations that were held to put the strategy together looked at several key factors in developing tourism within the Thompson Okanagan. The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the Region were all considered and researched in depth to create a framework for stakeholders to work together toward a shared vision and common goals.
Mandziuk also presented videos of promotional commercials about the Region that will be shown in key areas, such as Calgary when the Stampede is on, and in other countries to attract tourism. The videos highlighted all of the beauty and diversity of the Region; from events, to wine tasting, to fresh produce, and authentic experiences. Of note was the number of cameos in the videos that showed the Barriere area, including the North Thompson Fall Fair & Rodeo, the area trail system, and local lakes and waterways.
“The vision of the 10-year Strategy is for the Thompson Okanagan to be a highly successful all-year-round destination, with a strong and attractive image that is clearly differentiated from its competitors,” states the Regional Strategy, “The region will be well known for the authenticity of its tourism offers and the cultural and environmental richness and diversity of the areas within it. The industry will be recognized for its commitment to work together to strengthen tourism for the benefit of all”.
Mandziuk noted the tourists who come from other countries to the region, “Are spending more money than B.C. residents in the industry; we need to attract that visitor that wants to spend money in our area. We want to be differentiated from everyone else. We need to enrich local flavours, expand personal horizons, and build authenticity.”
He also said the Region needs to do a better job of coordinating and promoting its special events at a world class level.
Chamber of Commerce president, Scott Kershaw commented, “One thing that was very clear from the presentation is that we need all stakeholders to work together for tourism to be truly successful in the region, as the true competition in our industry is not the competition that is across the street, rather it’s the competition that is in New Zealand and other emerging tourism markets who are competing for the target customers. If we can all work together we can grow our market share and therefore there would be a greater market for all to share. Target customers are looking for an experience. They want to interact with locals, visit historic sites, have multicultural experiences, see our natural wonders, have hands on learning, and when that is all done they want to dine at restaurants offering local ingredients. Most of all they want to be part of a story, our story. Once we create a bunch of stories we can link them together by using tools like GPS and geocaching creating a regional story.”
The local Chamber of Commerce will be adding their support to approve moving forward with the tourism strategy, which is scheduled to be officially launched this month.